Who regulates Yucca Mountain:
DOE, NRC, and EPA are the three primary federal agencies with specific responsibilities. Each has sought public participation through public meetings, hearings, comment periods, and other mechanisms. EPA and DOE must follow the Administrative Procedure Act, which stipulates that agency actions are subject to public comment. NRC operates under the Sunshine Act, which also requires public comment. DOE held 21 public hearings throughout the country in 1999 and early 2000 and received written public comments for more than 180 days concerning its Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Citizens can share their comments and concerns at DOE’s Yucca Mountain Web site (http://www.ymp.gov). Citizens are also encourged to write to the Director of Mineral County's Nuclear Projects Office, Linda Mathias with any comments. Energy Policy Act of 1992
Citizens can learn about NRC’s rulemaking process and the status of specific rules and share their comments on proposed NRC regulations through NRC’s Web site (http://ruleforum.llnl.gov) and toll-free line, (800) 368-5642, and through NRC public meetings. Individuals can petition NRC to initiate, modify, or terminate a rule.
NRC's Role in the Pre-Licensing Process:
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is responsible for determining whether DOE will receive the necessary licenses to dispose of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste in the potential Yucca Mountain repository. Once EPA’s standards are finalized, NRC would revise its regulations to be consistent with EPA’s standards. If the Yucca Mountain site is approved to accept waste, shipments by NRC licensees to the site would be made in accordance with NRC and DOT transportation regulations. NRC is the approving authority for safeguard and security (theft and sabotage protection) of spent-fuel transportation.
During the pre-licensing phase, NRC's had four primary responsibilities:
- Review of the Department of Energy's (DOE) site characterization process.
This review included identifying any specific concerns that may impact licensing. The NRC observed DOE's site characterization including exploratory drilling and tunneling. The agency also observed and commented on the DOE quality assurance program. Pre-licensing interactions with the DOE have been open to participation by the State of Nevada, Indian tribes, and local governments. See Resolution of Key Technical Issues for High-Level Waste Disposal for more information about the NRC's activities to review DOE's site characterization program.
- Site Recommendation Process
- Review of DOE's Environmental Impact Statement for Yucca Mountain
- High-Level Waste Disposal Regulations, Guidance, and Communications
- NRC's Yucca Mountain Review Plan
The Yucca Mountain Review Plan provides guidance for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff to evaluate a U.S. Department of Energy license application for a geologic repository. It is not a regulation and does not impose regulatory requirements. The licensing criteria are contained in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 10, Part 63 (10 CFR Part 63), “Disposal of High-Level Radioactive Wastes in a Proposed Geologic Repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.”
The Secretary of Energy has recommended the Yucca Mountain site to the President for the development of a Yucca Mountain repository. The President has notified Congress that he considers the Yucca Mountain site qualified for application for a construction authorization for a repository. Nevada filed a notice of disapproval of the President’s recommendation; however, Congress later approved the site recommendation.
Quality Assurance Program
The NRC observes and comments on the Department of Energy (DOE) quality assurance (QA) program. As a result of NRC's comments on deficiencies in DOE's QA program, the DOE submitted to NRC on January 3, 2002, the OCRWM Management Improvement Initiatives (OMII). The NRC reviewed the OMII and informed DOE that the report did not meet NRC's expectations. On April 5, 2002, the DOE submitted a letter to NRC describing actions DOE will take to develop a revised report. On July 19, 2002, the DOE submitted to NRC a revision to the OMII:Management Improvement Initiatives, Revision 0. On May 29, 2003, DOE submitted a letter to NRC providing details of the actions being taken to ensure that a potential license application meets NRC expectations for completeness, accuracy, and compliance with quality assurance requirements.
On April 5, 2004, DOE submitted a letter to NRC that indicated that DOE has completed the commitments made in the Management Improvement Initiatives. Enclosed with the letter is a memorandum transmitting the reports "Management Improvement Initiative (MII) Independent Review (IR) dated March 19, 2004, "Yucca Mountain Project (YMP) Annunciator Panel from March Monthly Operating Review," and "OCRWM Management Improvement Initiatives Transition Approach, Rev. 1," dated December 2003.
The NRC staff also observes audits conducted by the Department of Energy's Office of Quality Assurance. The DOE audits assess whether their contractors have satisfactorily implemented the DOE's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management quality assurance program.
The NRC documents its observations of the DOE audit and transmits its observations to the DOE. NRC observation audit reports are available and can be found on their website at http://www.nrc.gov/waste/hlw-disposal/quality –audits.html.
The following federal laws address primary responsibility for storage and disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste: Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1987
Environmental Protection Agency
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for developing site-specific standards for Yucca Mountain, Nevada. These standards protect public health and the environment from harmful exposure to the radioactive waste which would be stored and disposed in the proposed underground geologic repository. EPA’s standards address all environmental pathways: air, ground water, and soil. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is responsible for implementing the standards developed by EPA.
EPA held public hearings on its proposed standards for Yucca Mountain in October 1999 and received about 800 comments during the 90-day public comment period. Information about EPA’s Yucca Mountain activities is available by calling the Agency’s toll-free Yucca Mountain Information Line at (800) 331-9477. EPA also has a Yucca Mountain Web page (http://www.epa.gov/radiation/yucca).
Department of Transportation's Role:
If waste transportation to Yucca Mountain is authorized, the Department of Transportation (DOT) could be charged with ensuring that waste carriers comply with routing regulations and guidelines. Radioactive waste carrier drivers must be trained and retrained each year to tackle a variety of transport conditions and situations, including rough terrain and severe weather conditions. Drivers must complete a First Responders Course, to help them prepare for incident prevention and response. Additional emergency response support would be provided by the Federal Emergency Management Administration which assists state and local governments in developing emergency response plans.
Mine Safety and Health Administration's Role:
Mine Safety and Health Administration
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) of the Department of Labor is responsible for ensuring the health and safety of underground workers at the Yucca Mountain facility. MSHA provides technical assistance and consultation services and conducts on-site safety and health visits at the facility.
Surface Transportation Board
On March 17, 2008 the U.S. Department of Energy filed an application for authority to build and operate an approximately 300-mile railroad line in Nevada. In connection with this proposed transaction, the STB has developed a fact sheet explaining the STBs procedures for evaluating the proposal, and providing jurisdictional and other background information.