RADIOACTIVE WASTE NEWS
1) ENERGY DAILYDecember 3, 2009
GAO: Storing Nuke Waste Could Cut Disposal Costs
BY JEFF BEATTIE In a study done for opponents of the proposed Yucca Mountain repository, congressional investigators estimated Wednesday that two alternatives—both involving storing spent fuel and nuclear waste for 100 years before final geologic disposal—could be slightly less expensive than building the Yucca project, although the report acknowledges big uncertainties in the projections.While citing broad cost ranges for all three of its waste management scenarios, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimated the “mean” cost of licensing, building and operating the controversial Yucca Mountain repository, located 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, at about $53 billion.GAO projects slightly lower costs for storing spent fuel and high-level radioactive waste for 100 years—either at current commercial reactor sites or two regional facilities—and then burying it in an underground facility like Yucca. Much of the saving would come from reduced government legal liabilities in the case of the centralized storage option, and lower handling costs in the case of continued on-site storage, according to GAO.However, GAO noted that if the Energy Department opted for the extended storage options, it would still have to build a geologic repository—and that it would be “extremely challenging” to find a state willing to host such a facility.Despite those sobering words, the rather hazy GAO cost estimates come at a politically convenient time for the Obama administration, which appears poised to kill Yucca—perhaps within days--by withdrawing a license application for the project pending at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.The Obama administration has said for months that the Yucca Mountain repository is a flawed option for managing U.S. waste and spent fuel, although most observers think the administration is dumping Yucca to fulfill a political promise Obama made to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) when Obama was running for president. Reid has long opposed Yucca, and the new GAO report was done for him and two other Yucca foes, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). Reid seized on the new report as evidence that Yucca should be abandoned.The report “shows that on-site and interim storage are less costly than Yucca Mountain…[and] that the additional time spent in on-site storage would make the waste safer to handle, reducing risks should the waste need to be transported in the future,” Reid said.“This report confirms what most Nevadans already know, that the president made the right decision to stop the Yucca Mountain project and focus on finding alternatives to dealing with nuclear waste.”In fact however, GAO was decidedly cautious about assessing the different scenarios side-by-side, and said it declined in the report to “compare the Yucca Mountain cost range to the ranges of other alternatives because of significant differences in inherent characteristics of these alternatives that our modeling work could not quantify.“For example, the safety, health, and environmental risks for each are very different, which needs to be considered in the policy debate on nuclear waste management decisions.”
The report projects a cost of $51 billion for continuing to store spent fuel and radioactive waste at dozens of current reactor sites for 100 years, and then building an underground repository much like Yucca. All in all, that estimate covers a period of 232 years, whereas the Yucca estimates covers 143 years, the estimated time it would take to fill and close the Nevada repository.
Finally, GAO estimated a cost of $47 billion to store the radioactive material at two new regional storage facilities, and then bury it at a repository like Yucca. That estimate also covers a period of 232 years.Under each of the scenarios, DOE modeled the disposal of 153,000 metric tons of waste, the amount estimated to be stockpiled in the United States by 2055. Importantly, however, the report acknowledges a high level of uncertainty in those estimates, and the figures merely represent an average number within a very wide range of estimates for each scenario. For instance, GAO’s $51 billion cost estimate for the on-site storage scenario merely marks the mean value within a range of $20 billion to $97 billion. The cost ranges for the other two scenarios—Yucca and centralized interim storage—were similarly large.The report is also notable because it is discouraging about spent fuel reprocessing—which the Obama administration has increasingly touted as a key tool in moving away from Yucca—from a cost perspective.GAO pointed out that “the Congressional Budget Office recently reported that current reprocessing technologies are more expensive than direct disposal of the waste in a geologic repository,” and that a repository would be required even with reprocessing because it still produces high level waste, albeit in smaller volumes.The report is also interesting in that GAO’s estimate of Yucca’s costs appears significantly lower than DOE’s estimated $96 billion in project life-cycle costs.While DOE produced its estimate using 2007 constant dollars, GAO chose to discount its estimate to reflect the changing value of money over time, producing a smaller number. In addition, GAO chose not to include $14 billion in costs thus far incurred at Yucca, partly because it used Yucca costs to help estimate disposal costs for the centralized and at-reactor storage scenarios, and including the $14 billion would muddy those comparisons.“We excluded historical costs for the Yucca Mountain repository because these costs represent challenges unique to Yucca Mountain and may not be applicable to a future repository,” GAO said.One reason why centralized interim storage could trim costs, GAO said, is because it would allow DOE to quickly take custody of the nation’s spent fuel, thus avoiding future damage payments to utilities arising from DOE’s failure to begin disposing of their waste in 1998.“DOE could curtail its liabilities to the electric power companies, potentially saving the government up to $500 million per year after 2020, as estimated by DOE,” said GAO.
Continued on-site storage would likely not allow DOE to take legal custody, but it poses the lowest near-term challenges of all the strategies, and it would allow waste to get less radioactive before it is shipped to a disposal site, making handling safer, GAO said.
2) The following is a NEI synopsis with the regards to the GAO Report.
A Government Accountability Office report on the challenges and cost of Yucca Mountain and analyses of two potential used fuel management alternatives was released yesterday. The report was requested by Nevada Sens. Harry Reid and John Ensign and California Sen. Barbara Boxer. GAO concludes that virtually any used fuel management strategy will face political, legal and regulatory challenges, and that any strategy selected must have geologic disposal as a final solution. The report recommends that the government and industry consider a strategy of parallel interim storage and repository development to provide flexibility in the program.
Overview of GAO’s Findings
§ The Yucca Mountain repository is designed to provide a permanent solution for managing nuclear waste, minimize the uncertainty of future waste safety, and enable DOE to begin fulfilling its legal obligation under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to take custody of commercial waste, which began in 1998.
§ Project delays have led to utility lawsuits that DOE estimates are costing taxpayers about $12.3 billion in damages through 2020 and could cost $500 million per year after 2020, though the outcome of pending litigation may affect the government’s total liability. Also, the administration has announced plans to terminate Yucca Mountain and seek alternatives.
§ GAO’s analysis of DOE’s cost projections found that a repository to dispose of 153,000 metric tons would cost from $41 billion to $67 billion (in 2009 present value) over a 143-year period until the repository is closed. Nuclear power rate payers would pay about 80 percent of these costs, and taxpayers would pay about 20 percent.
§ Centralized storage at two locations provides an alternative that could be implemented within 10 to 30 years, allowing more time to consider final disposal options, nuclear waste to be removed from decommissioned reactor sites, and the government to take custody of commercial nuclear waste, saving billions of dollars in liabilities. However, DOE’s statutory authority to provide centralized storage is uncertain, and finding a state willing to host a facility could be extremely challenging.
§ Centralized interim storage does not provide for final used fuel disposal, so much of the used fuel would be transported twice to reach its final destination. Using cost data from experts, GAO estimated the 2009 present value cost of centralized storage of 153,000 metric tons at the end of 100 years to range from $15 billion to $29 billion, but increasing to between $23 billion and $81 billion with final geologic disposal.
§ On-site storage would provide an alternative requiring little change from the status quo, but would face increasing challenges over time. It would also allow time for consideration of final disposal options. The additional time in on-site storage would make the fuel safer to handle, reducing risks when fuel is transported for final disposal. However, the government is unlikely to take custody of the used fuel, especially at operating nuclear reactor sites, which could result in significant financial liabilities that would increase over time. Not taking custody could also intensify public opposition to spent fuel storage site renewals and reactor license extensions, particularly with no plan in place for final waste disposition.
§ Extended on-site storage could introduce possible risks to the safety and security of the used fuel as the storage systems degrade and the fuel decays, potentially requiring new maintenance and security measures. GAO estimated the 2009 present value cost of on-site storage of 153,000 metric tons at the end of 100 years to range from $13 billion to $34 billion, but increasing to between $20 billion to $97 billion with final geologic disposal.
NEI Talking Points
Here are NEI’s talking points on the value of an integrated used fuel management strategy, including the development of centralized interim storage. As GAO notes, regardless of which management path is selected, the U.S. must develop a geologic repository.
§ The nuclear energy industry supports a three-pronged, integrated used fuel management strategy:
- interim storage
- research, development and demonstration to recycle nuclear fuel
- development of a permanent disposal facility suitable for the final waste form.
§ Used fuel storage at nuclear plant sites is safe and secure. However, interim storage sites at centralized volunteer locations will enable the movement of used fuel from both decommissioned and operating plants before recycling facilities or the repository begin operating, ending additional federal financial liability stemming from the U.S. Department of Energy’s failure to begin accepting used fuel by 1998.
§ A research and development program, including a commercial demonstration plant, should be implemented to recycle used nuclear fuel. The objective is, through closing the commercial nuclear fuel cycle, to reduce the volume, heat and toxicity of byproducts placed in the repository and to reclaim a significant amount of energy that remains in used fuel.
§ Isolation of byproducts and/or used fuel in a specially designed underground repository is consistent with the international scientific consensus that deep geologic disposal is the most effective means of protecting public health and the environment. The repository must be licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission prior to construction and operation
§ Because the federal government defaulted on its legal obligation to begin removing used nuclear fuel from power plants by January 1998, 104 operating and 14 shutdown U.S. commercial nuclear power reactors are safely storing fuel on site. Although used fuel is safe and secure at reactor sites, storage at these sites is not a substitute for the federal government’s commitment to manage this material.
§ Temporary storage at nuclear energy facilities is costly to electricity consumers, who must pay for both storage and disposal. Each year of delay in the federal program for removing used nuclear fuel from reactor sites will add an estimated $1 billion in temporary storage costs.
Monday, November 9, 2009
DOE To Abandon Yucca Licensing Effort Next Month
BY JEFF BEATTIE
The Energy Department plans to abandon next month its Yucca Mountain license application pending before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, according to internal DOE documents obtained by The Energy Daily, a move intended to bury the proposed Nevada nuclear waste repository for good.
In the meantime, sources say the White House and DOE have been engaged in considerable debate over whom to name to a "blue ribbon" panel that Energy Secretary Steven Chu is forming to identify waste disposal alternatives to the Yucca project, which President Obama says is unsafe.
Rumored candidates for the panel include former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft; former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.); former Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Shirley Jackson, who is currently president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; and University of California astrophysics professor George Smoot, who some say Chu has favored to chair the panel.
DOE’s accelerating effort to wind down Yucca Mountain is made clear by draft DOE documents obtained by The Energy Daily last week on the agency’s fiscal year 2011 budget. The documents show DOE will request only $46.2 million for Yucca in fiscal 2011—all of it aimed at closing the project.
The draft budget, dated October 23, would set aside half those funds for "archiving" project data and the rest for "transitioning" workers out of the Nevada site. More immediately significant is DOE’s plan to abandon its license application for Yucca."All license defense activities will be terminated in December 2009," says the budget request.That means DOE would stop responding to NRC staff questions about technical aspects of the giant application, virtually guaranteeing that NRC could not approve it.
For supporters of Yucca, continued progress at NRC has represented the best remaining hope that the project might survive.
Although the Obama administration has said for months that it plans to develop a different option for managing U.S. nuclear waste, Chu has maintained that DOE should continue work on Yucca application to better understand NRC’s criteria for a potential future disposal site.
More significantly, knowledgeable sources believe DOE has continued work on the Yucca license largely to forestall lawsuits from U.S. nuclear utilities, who might otherwise allege that DOE was violating the Nuclear Waste Policy Act which, as amended, generally directs DOE to develop Yucca.
But another source said Friday that it would be "difficult to charge DOE was doing anything illegal" if it did not request or get any money for continued development of Yucca.
Asked Friday about DOE’s plan to end work on the Yucca application, and whether DOE thought it would expose them to any legal challenges, Energy Department spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller said only that "the administration’s position on Yucca Mountain has not changed. "The president and Secretary Chu have made it clear that nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain is not an option, period. The 2010 budget clearly reflects the president’s commitment to moving beyond Yucca Mountain and developing a long- term waste management solution." While DOE’s fiscal 2010 budget includes $149 million for Yucca, the draft fiscal 2011 budget sets a "target" request of $46.2 million, "of which [$21.2 million] shall support site remediation and worker transition and [$25 million] shall support archiving of data associated with the Yucca Mountain Program."
Attached to the draft budget request is a memo from DOE Chief Financial Officer Steve Isakowitz to DOE budget officers. In the memo, Isakowitz said the budget request had recently been submitted to the White House Office of Management and Budget.
He says Chu has not given final approvals to the budget decisions, but that "we do not expect the information to change."
Utilities have already won nearly $600 million in court awards from DOE stemming from the department’s failure begin disposing of the utilities’ spent fuel in Yucca beginning in 1998, a date the two sides agreed upon in a set of 1983 contracts.
Several sources said Friday that it was unclear how DOE’s abandonment of the Yucca license application might affect those cases, if at all. However, other sources say that if DOE abandons the Yucca Mountain license application, it will have an increasingly difficult time justifying continuing collecting fees from ratepayers for the so-called Nuclear Waste Fund (NWF). The NWF is legally intended for use in developing a national spent fuel repository, but lawmakers have routinely used the money for other purposes, to the ire of nuclear utilities and state utility commissioners. Both groups have increased calls for DOE to halt collection of the fees since the administration announced plans to end the Yucca project earlier this year, arguing it was unjustifiable to continue collecting money for a project that was ending.And one source said DOE’s ending of license application work at NRC could fuel that argument.
That move DOE would amplify the "question as to whether DOE can rightfully continue to collect fees of more than $700 million per year if there were no program," the source said Friday. "And I think industry would really push on that."
Sources say DOE also might face tough questions from congressional appropriators if it abandons the Yucca license next month. One source said appropriators may think the agency is improperly "reprogramming" money if it uses fiscal 2010 appropriations intended for work on the Yucca license for other purposes.
More broadly, many Republicans and some moderate Democrats—particularly in the House—are generally unhappy with the Obama administration’s decision to end Yucca. Many think the decision to kill Yucca was aimed at fulfilling a political promise that Obama made to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)—an ardent Yucca foe—when Obama was running for president and needed Reid’s support. Chu, however, says Yucca is poor disposal site, that relevant science has improved since the site was picked in the 1980s and that the nation can find a better option with the help of the planned blue-ribbon panel.Although most Nevada officials oppose Yucca, Reid has been the best-positioned and most active in trying to kill the project, which he says is unsafe and was foisted onto his state in political deal-making years ago.
However, Reid is facing a very tough re-election fight next fall, and currently trails likely GOP challenger and Nevada Republican Party Chairwoman Susan Lowden by 8.4 points as of October 19, according to an average of polls from the Real Clear Politics Web site.
That raises the possibility that the administration may be sinking a project that has been studied for two decades, at a cost of about $10 billion, at the behest of a politician who may gone in a year.Reid’s electoral trouble in Nevada "make this all the more interesting—why would they [the administration] want to walk the plank here for Reid?" asked one glum pro-Yucca source last week.
One answer is surely that Obama needs Reid badly to help carry out legislative priorities that he sees as far bigger than Yucca Mountain, namely health care, climate change and regulation of the financial industry.
UNITED STATES NUCLEAR INFRASTRUCTURE COUNCIL
Trade press reports over the weekend confirmed early soundings -- vetted in the NIC Members Conference Call of October 30th -- that the DOE is seeking to accelerate the defunding of the Yucca Mountain license application to as early as the end of this calendar year (2009). According to DOE documents cited in the stories, the Department is proposing to utilize the balance of the $192 million in funds appropriated for
By Steve Hargreaves, CNNMoney.com staff writer
Last Updated: November 4, 2009: 4:44 PM
ETBAY CITY, Texas (CNNMoney.com) -- At a Texas power plant, two men in head-to-toe yellow jumpsuits are perched above a pool filled with still, crystal-clear water -- and nearly 20 years worth of nuclear waste.The 40-feet deep pool, about the size of an Olympic-sized swimming pool, is the current home to thousands of uranium-filled fuel rods -- the radioactive byproducts of a nuclear reactor. The men are using a robotic arm to position the rods sitting at the bottom of the pool.Pools such as this one are a temporary solution to a very long term problem: the hotly contested debate over what to do with the country's nuclear waste. Storing nuclear waste on site in pools, or in what's called "dry casks" outside the plant, seems an acceptable solution for the next several decades at existing plants. But nuclear waste remains radioactive for tens of thousands of years, far longer than the manmade pools are likely to survive.With global warming concerns and rising power demand, the idea of using more nuclear power is gaining traction. The Texas plant is among dozens nationwide that have applied to build more reactors. But some say a more permanent solution should be found before more new plants are built."The industry wants to build now and worry about the waste later," said Edwin Lyman, a senior staff scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. But to build "dozens or hundreds of new plants when we don't have any Nuclear waste: Coming to a town near you? - plausible means forward on waste disposable is irresponsible."Recycling the waste, as the French do, is often held up by lay people and politicians in the United States as a solution to this country's waste problem.When waste is recycled, the uranium and plutonium can be separated out from used nuclear fuel and fed back into a reactor. Critics hate it because the process of separating out the plutonium enriches the element to something closer to what's needed to build a nuclear bomb. Supporters like it because it reduces the need to go out and mine new uranium for fuel. But recycling isn't an ironclad solution for waste. It may reduce the amount of high level waste left over -- the French say it reduces it by a factor of eight, but others like Lyman argue it's more like a factor of two. Either way, there is still some waste leftover."There's no process that doesn't have waste at the end," said Steven Kraft, senior director of used fuel management at the industry's own Nuclear Energy Institute. Or as Jonathan Burton, an expert in nuclear waste at the consultancy Accenture, put it, "There's only one solution that's OK, and that's geologic disposal."A mountain of nuclear waste Geologic disposal, or burying the stuff deep in the earth, had been the government's plan for decades. Although other methods of disposal were studied -- sending it into outer space, burying it in the polar ice sheets -- storing it in the earth was thought to be the best solution, according to the government's research.By the early 1980s the government had decided to build a long term storage site for nuclear waste, and began collecting billions of dollars from electric utilities toward that end. In 1987 it started looking solely at Yucca Mountain, a site on federal land some 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas that was thought to have solid rock formations, essential for containing the waste for long periods of time. In 2002 the government formally designated the site as its repository. Construction has begun, although now it's mostly just series of tunnels into the earth.But Nevada residents never liked the plan, and were vocal about their opposition. When Harry Reid (D-Nev.) became Senate majority leader in 2006, the site's future came into question. Some critics also pointed to the geology at Yucca Mountain, saying the rocks were more porous than previously thought and noting the volcanic activity in the area.Although the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is still reviewing the permit to store waste at the site and those in the industry hope it can still be built, the Obama administration now says Yucca Mountain is no longer an option. More than 25 years in the making, and the project seems dead.Accenture's Burton believes an underground storage facility is still a possibility: "From an engineering perspective, I have every reason to believe one is," he said. Burton said it's prudent to build more plants as long as we're confident another repository can be built.Energy Department said Secretary Steven Chu will be appointing a blue ribbon panel shortly to figure out what to do with nuclear waste. That could mean reverting to the previous list of repository candidates, which named at least 10 other sites in Nuclear waste: states including Maine, Washington, New Mexico and North Carolina. It might also mean the space or polar ice cap idea is back on the table, but the spokesperson declined to comment.Whatever the case, it shouldn't take another 25 years to reach a solution.
First Published: November 4, 2009: 11:48 AM ET
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by William La Jeunesse
SAN ONOFRE, CALIF.
While closing Yucca Mountain made for good campaign politics in Nevada, it leaves the U.S. with nowhere to store a growing stockpile of radioactive waste. Roughly 70,000 tons of waste sits in temporary pools and dry storage canisters in 100 reactor sites around the U.S. -- each one requiring an army of guards and millions in electronic surveillance.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
After 30 years, five presidents and $13 billion dollars, the Obama administration is pulling the plug on Yucca Mountain, the federal government's proposed storage facility for America's nuclear waste.For a candidate who said he wanted to get politics out of science, critics find the president's decision hypocritical and shortsighted, at a time when nuclear energy is making a comeback."They have no solution to the problem. They've taken tens of billions of dollars from rate-payers and now they are talking about scraping the whole thing," said Leslie Paige of Citizens Against Government Waste.For 2010, the administration dramatically reduced Yucca Mountain's budget, just enough, a spokesperson said, to answer questions from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.Energy Secretary Stephen Chu told Congress earlier this year that Yucca Mountain is "not an option," and a spokesperson for the Nevada Facility told Fox News that the site is closed. The number of employees is down from a high of 4,000 to 50, according to a lawyer familiar with the repository.The decision was not un-expected. President Obama campaigned hard in Nevada and promised voters there in January 2008 "I am against yucca. I have repeatedly said I am against Yucca."But what made for good campaign politics in Nevada leaves the U.S. with nowhere to store a growing stockpile of radioactive waste. Roughly 70,000 tons of waste sits in temporary pools and dry storage canisters in 100 reactor sites around the U.S. -- each one requiring an army of guards and millions in electronic surveillance.The federal government agreed in 1982 to build a permanent storage site for radioactive waste and signed contracts to begin accepting it by 1998. Failure to meet that obligation has already cost the government $565 million in settlements and the Department of Energy estimates it will cost another $11 billion over the next decade in court costs and judgments."For every summary judgment, for every litigation, that they lose, for every settlement they have to pay, that is money coming out of the taxpayers pocket," Paige told Fox News.Many in Congress are also angry with Obama's decision to close Yucca Mountain. "Many a utility facility across the country is going to have to close down if we don't get a handle on it because waste is piling up in those communities with reactors," said Rep. Jerry Lewis, (R-Calif). Lawmakers like Lewis and Sen. John McCain say with no long term repository for America's nuclear waste, the re-licensing of existing plants and construction of new ones is in jeopardy, just as the nation reconsiders nuclear energy as a clean and dependable source of electricity.
In the meantime, the nation's utilities have asked the federal government to suspend the nuclear waste disposal tax -- now running about $750 million a year -- and may want a refund for the money already spent on the now failed yucca facility. So far, officials representing the department of energy have said no.
Jan. 31, 2009
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
Yucca workers urged to fight for their jobs
E-mail campaign touted in fliers
WASHINGTON -- Workers at the Department of Energy's Yucca Mountain Project in Las Vegas are being urged to launch an e-mail campaign aimed at saving their jobs in light of dwindling budgets threatened by Sen. Harry Reid and the Obama administration.
Fliers were placed on the windshields of cars and trucks at the project's offices in Summerlin this week.
The fliers, which were not signed, called on workers to enlist their friends and family to write to President Barack Obama and top Nevada leaders, and stressed that de-funding the nuclear waste project "will have a significant adverse impact on the community as a whole."There is never a good time to be out of a job, but as you know now is certainly a very bad time," they said. "This town cannot afford to lose 1,200 or so high paying jobs, the Summerlin area cannot absorb hundreds of additional houses on the market and the vacancy of tens of thousands of square feet of office space."The organizers of the e-mail campaign could not be discerned on Friday.Spokesmen for the Department of Energy and Bechtel SAIC, the project's managing contractor, said those entities were not involved in the effort.Several workers said Friday the appeal was indicative of low morale and high anxiety among employees who have been caught in the undertow of the controversial project.The Yucca workforce has been halved in the past three years, from about 2,750 to 1,400, according to DOE. About 1,120 work in Nevada, with most of the remainder in Washington.But now the project is under pressure as never before, as the president has declared he is against it and an energized Reid has vowed to kill it outright. On Wednesday Reid, the Senate majority leader, disclosed that new legislation Congress is expected to pass in the coming weeks will reduce the Yucca budget to a record low of $288.4 million.Lynne Norman, an administrative assistant on the Yucca project who lives in Summerlin, said Friday project workers are being made to feel like "second-class citizens," and she feels betrayed by her home-state senator.Nevada officials who have strategized against the Yucca project said they are sympathetic but the cause of killing the repository is bigger than the workers, who they said should not be surprised the end finally might be near. Reid on Jan. 14 declared, "Yucca Mountain is not a jobs program."Adding to the distress on the program is an upcoming management changeover, workers said, as Bechtel SAIC is ending an eight-year tenure as chief operations contractor.Bechtel SAIC sent federally required layoff warnings to more than 600 workers Monday, reminding them they will no longer be employed as of March 31, when the company's contract expires."Killing the dump is the right policy for Nevada and for America," Reid and Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said in a joint statement Friday.They said the federal Workforce Investment Act can provide retraining and other help for dislocated workers.
Keith Rogers of the Review-Journal contributed to this report. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia. com or 202-783-1760.
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NRC Comments re WCS Land Ownership Exemption Request
By letter dated August 22, 2008, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) notified the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) of its intention to grant an exemption from the government land ownership requirements in 30 TAC 336.734(a) for Waste Control Specialist’s (WCS) proposed low-level radioactive waste disposal facility in Andrews County, Texas. NRC’s Office of Federal & State Materials & Environmental Management Programs recently responded via letter dated October 28, 2008. In the letter, NRC discusses compatibility requirements and other factors for consideration.
Background 10 CFR Part 61 requires state or federal government ownership of land for a low-level radioactive waste site before the issuance of a license. Although 30 TAC 336.734 contains a similar provision, 30 TAC 336.909 allows for the government to assume ownership at the time of decommissioning. By letter dated January 22, 2004, NRC provided TCEQ with the results of its compatibility review of revisions to the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Rules in Title 30 of the Texas Administrative Code. The provision for government land ownership of the federal facility portion of the proposed low-level radioactive waste disposal facility was identified as the one remaining outstanding issue. NRC determined that compatibility of TCEQ regulations would not be an issue, however, until the filing of an exemption request from 30 TAC 336.734.
Similar Exemption In 1993, the State of Utah granted an exemption from the government land ownership requirements to EnergySolutions’ predecessor—Envirocare of Utah. In that case, the license had no requirement for government ownership of the site at any time. Nonetheless, NRC determined that the exemption provided adequate controls so that the objectives of the land ownership requirement could be achieved without actual government ownership.
NRC’s Analysis NRC’s October 2008 letter states that “Texas is free to grant an exemption to its own regulations, but any exemption must meet the criteria” in 30 TAC 336.5—which NRC has determined are compatible with exemption provisions contained in the agency’s own regulations. 30 TAC 336.5 states that the exemption must not be “… prohibited by law,” and is to be “… at least as protective of the environment and the public health as the method prescribed by Commission [TCEQ] rules that would otherwise apply.” NRC’s government land ownership requirement is “primarily aimed at the long-term control of the site, with the premise that the government is likely to outlast private entities.” It is intended to ensure “that a responsible entity will be available to perform custodial care and to restrict access to the site during the post closure institutional control phase.” In the case at hand, WCS has proposed that the federal government would take ownership of the land for the federal facility at the time of decommissioning, instead of at the time of license issuance. The draft license issued by TCEQ, however, prohibits the disposal of federal facility waste at the WCS site until the U.S. Department of Energy provides an acceptable written agreement stating that the federal government will assume all right, title and interest in land and buildings for the disposal of federal facility waste in accordance with 30 TAC 336.909(2) and at the time of decommissioning. Thus, although the government will not own the land during the operations, closure and post closure phases, it would take ownership at the time that the post closure phase ends and the 100 year institutional control period begins. WCS’ application presents a case for demonstrating the control of access to the site during these pre-institutional control phases through the presence of WCS personnel on the site, periodic inspections by TCEQ, and restrictive covenants for the property. NRC’s letter states that “[t]heoretically, private ownership of the facility up to the beginning of the institutional control period would appear to be able to meet the essential objectives of the government land ownership provisions of Part 61.” The letter goes on to state, however, that adequate assurance that the federal government will take ownership at a later time must be demonstrated.
Conclusions and Next Steps NRC’s October 2008 letter states that the agency has reconfirmed that the Texas regulations, as adopted, meet NRC’s compatibility and health and safety requirements. Moreover, NRC believes “that the general approach proposed by WCS for private ownership during the phases before the institutional control period can be consistent with the objectives of the government ownership requirements given appropriate circumstances.” Accordingly, NRC has determined that TCEQ is not precluded from considering an appropriate exemption. NRC intends to review the implementation details of this exemption approval to ensure that it is adequate to protect public health and safety when the agency performs its next Integrated Materials Performance Evaluation Program (IMPEP) review of the Texas program. The IMPEP uses common criteria in the assessment and places primary emphasis on performance. The specific performance indicator on the low-level radioactive waste disposal program consists of five sub-elements, including the Technical Quality of Licensing Actions. NRC notes that the “granting of an exemption to the institutional requirements as proposed should be based on addressing the health and safety issues and would be factored into a finding of adequacy for the program and not compatibility as indicated in the [agency’s] January 22, 2004, letter.” NRC is currently scheduled to perform its next IMPEP review of the Texas program in 2010.
Additional Comment re Depleted Uranium Condition 47 in the draft license issued to WCS by TCEQ states as follows: The Licensee shall not receive or dispose of any waste with physical, chemical, and radiological characteristics not evaluated in the application. The Licensee shall not receive or dispose uranium hexafluoride (UF6) conversion waste, depleted uranium or similar waste. In order to accept any additional waste streams, information on complete waste profiles, radionuclide information, total radioactivity, radionuclide concentrations, chemical constituents, and analysis of any impacts to members of the public and the environment must be submitted as an application for amendment to this license. NRC’s October 2008 letter states that this condition “is consistent with recent Commission direction to the NRC staff to consider whether the quantities of DU in the waste stream from uranium enrichment facilities warrant additional measures to ensure protection of public health and safety.” (See LLW Forum News Flash titled, “NRC Staff Issues Recommendations Regarding Depleted Uranium,” November 6, 2008.) NRC states that it will notify TCEQ when the staff paper is finalized and available for public review. After staff receives Commission direction, they can discuss the relevance, if any, of the Commission decision on this issue to TCEQ’s path forward.
For additional information, please contact Jim Kennedy of NRC at (301) 415-6668 or Susan Jablonski of TCEQ at (512) 239-6466.
EPA Issues Final Yucca Mountain Radiation Standards
Contact: Cathy Milbourn, (202) 564-4355 / firstname.lastname@example.org
EPA has established radiation standards for the proposed spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste disposal facility at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
EPA is required to set standards consistent with the findings and recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and satisfy a July 2004 court decision to extend the standards' duration. The Yucca Mountain standards are in line with approaches used in the international radioactive waste management community. The final standards will:
· Retain the dose limit of 15 millirem per year for the first 10,000 years after disposal;
· Establish a dose limit of 100 millirem annual exposure per year between 10,000 years and 1 million years;
· Require the Department of Energy (DOE) to consider the effects of climate change, earthquakes, volcanoes, and corrosion of the waste packages to safely contain the waste during the 1 million-year period; and
· Be consistent with the recommendations of the NAS by establishing a radiological protection standard for this facility at the time of peak dose up to 1 million years after disposal.
Human exposure to radiation varies from natural sources, such as radon and ultraviolet radiation from the sun, and other sources, such as medical X-rays. The average annual radiation exposure from both naturally occurring and manmade sources for a person living in the United States has been estimated to be 360 millirem per year.
EPA, DOE and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission perform different functions related to Yucca Mountain . To learn more about this action and the roles of the three federal agencies, visit: http://www.epa.gov/radiation/yucca
EnergySolutions v. Northwest Interstate Compact on Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management
Rocky Mountain Compact Granted Intervenor Status in Suit Challenging Northwest Compact’s Authority
On September 18, 2008, the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, Central Division, granted an Unopposed Motion to Join the Rocky Mountain Low-Level Radioactive Waste Compact as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by EnergySolutions against the Northwest Interstate Compact on Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management and against Michael Garner solely in his official capacity as Executive Director of the Northwest Compact. The State of Utah’s unopposed motion to intervene as a defendant in the action was previously granted by the court on August 28, 2008. The lawsuit—which was initiated on May 5 of this year—seeks, among other things, a declaratory judgment “to clarify the authority of the Northwest Compact to govern EnergySolutions’ privately owned, commercial, low-level radioactive disposal site in Clive, Utah.” (See LLW Notes, May/June 2008, pp. 25-28.)
Rocky Mountain Compact’s Motion to Intervene as a Defendant
Arguments In its motion to intervene as a party defendant, the Rocky Mountain Compact asserts that it has a right to intervene because • as a Congressionally-approved compact, it has the right to intervene in any administrative or judicial proceeding involving low-level radioactive waste; and, • it has an interest in the subject matter of the proceeding and is so situated that the case’s disposition may as a practical matter impair or impede its ability to protect that interest. The compact also argues that intervention should be allowed because “there are common questions of law and fact regarding the compact system which impact the Rocky Mountain Compact” and because the case “involves claims based upon state and federal regulations, orders, requirements, and/or agreements which relate to the management of low-level radioactive waste and the compact system.” Response While EnergySolutions stated that it does not agree with many of the assertions and legal conclusions set forth in the defendants’ motion and accompanying memorandum and does not agree that the Rocky Mountain Compact is a proper party to the action, the company acknowledged that the court has discretion to permit intervention in certain circumstances. Accordingly, EnergySolutions did not object to entry of an order making the state a party to the action, subject to conditions that were agreed upon and stipulated by the parties. Order Pursuant to the terms of the court’s order granting the Rocky Mountain Compact party status as a defendant in the case, the compact has 15 days to file an answer to EnergySolutions’ first amended complaint and must file their memoranda in opposition to the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on Count I no later than October 21, 2008. The compact is required to comply with previously established discovery and case management schedules and to coordinate with the defendants to avoid duplication of discovery. The compact may not file separate claims for relief unless EnergySolutions seeks leave to file a second amended complaint.
Rocky Mountain Compact’s Answer to the First Amended Complaint
On August 29, the Rocky Mountain Compact submitted its answer in response to EnergySolution’s first amended complaint. Responses to Arguments In its answer, the Rocky Mountain Compact affirmatively alleges that the facility is subject to the Northwest Compact’s authority and constitutes a “regional disposal facility” under the terms of the Northwest Compact. In addition, the compact denies EnergySolution’s allegation that the Clive facility has never been operated under a compact. The Rocky Mountain Compact also denies that the Northwest Compact’s actions regarding the proposed importation of foreign waste to the Clive facility violate federal statutes and/or the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Affirmative Defenses As affirmative defenses, the Rocky Mountain Compact charges that • the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and raises non-justiciable political questions; • the court lacks personal jurisdiction over the defendants; • venue is not proper; • one or more of the listed claims are barred because they are not ripe for adjudication; • the plaintiff failed to exhaust its administrative remedies, waived one or more of the listed claims, and lacks standing to bring one of more of the listed claims; and, • the requested relief may be barred by the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The action arises out of a proposal from EnergySolutions to import up to 20,000 tons of potentially radioactively contaminated material from Italy and to export for return to generators in Italy any of the imported waste that can not be recycled or does not meet the Clive facility’s waste acceptance criteria for disposal. (See LLW Notes, November/December 2007, pp. 6-9.) Under the proposal, the contaminated material would be processed at EnergySolutions’ Bear Creek facility for recycling and beneficial reuse with any resultant waste being disposed at the Clive facility. EnergySolutions estimates that approximately 1,600 tons of the imported material would be disposed as Class A LLRW at the Clive facility. The Northwest Compact heard from both proponents and critics of EnergySolutions’ proposal during a meeting on May 8, 2008. Following a closed-door session, they voted unanimously that the compact’s Third Amended Resolution and Order—which authorizes access for LLRW to the Clive facility subject to the provisions of the company’s license from the State of Utah—does not address foreign LLRW and that an arrangement would need to be adopted prior to such waste being provided access to the region for disposal at the Clive Facility. (See LLW Notes, May/June 2008, pp. 1, 7-9.) Three days prior to the meeting, on May 5, 2008, EnergySolutions filed a lawsuit challenging the Northwest Compact’s authority over the Clive facility. (See LLW Notes, May/June 2008, pp. 25-28.) Among other things, EnergySolutions argues that (1) the Clive facility is not a “regional disposal facility” as defined by the LLRWPA and the Northwest Compact therefore lacks authority to restrict the flow of LLRW to the facility; (2) NRC’s authority and responsibility for the regulation of the export and import of byproducts and nuclear materials preempt any attempt by the Northwest Compact to restrict or prevent the importation of foreign waste to the Clive facility; and, (3) any effort by the Northwest Compact to restrict or prohibit the Clive facility from receiving foreign LLRW would amount to unauthorized discrimination against foreign commerce and would be prohibited by the dormant Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Rocky Mountain Compact has a contract with the Northwest Compact and the State of Washington for the disposal of commercial Class A, B and C low-level radioactive waste at the compact’s regional disposal facility in Richland, Washington. In 2005, the State of Washington and US Ecology agreed to incorporate a clause in the new sublease for the Richland disposal facility that allows the state to terminate the sublease if the Northwest Compact loses exclusionary authority on out-of-region low-level radioactive waste provided by federal law.
For additional information, please contact Leonard Slosky, Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Compact, at (303) 825-1912; Tye Rogers, Vice President of Compliance and Permitting at EnergySolutions, at (801) 649-2000; or, Michael Garner, Executive Director of the Northwest Compact, at (360) 407-7102
Sep. 19, 2008
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
CORRECTION -- 09/20/08 -- In a Friday Review-Journal story about the Yucca Mountain Project, a comment about momentum building among some members of Congress toward reprocessing nuclear waste was misattributed. The comment should have been attributed to Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.
NUCLEAR PROJECTS AGENCY: Yucca fight reaffirmed
Lawmakers: Loux rift won't end opposition
WASHINGTON -- No matter what happens with the embattled director of Nevada's Nuclear Projects Agency, the state will not give up the fight against Yucca Mountain, Nevada's senators vowed Thursday.
Sens. Harry Reid and John Ensign insisted the Energy Department's plans for a nuclear waste repository are still more dead than alive, even as the department made progress this summer moving it toward construction.
In a conference call with reporters, the senators said they wanted to nip in the bud any thoughts that the state should abandon its long-held opposition and seek benefits instead from the federal government to host the site."There will be no deal cut," Reid said.Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., echoed Reid and Ensign in a separate interview.Berkley said the nuclear industry and supporters of Yucca Mountain "smell blood" in the turmoil surrounding the Agency for Nuclear Projects, whose executive director, Bob Loux, is under fire for giving himself and his staff unauthorized raises.Although Berkley said she disapproved of Loux's actions and expected him to leave the job, "let's not throw out the baby with the bath water" by altering strategy in the anti-Yucca campaign.Members of the state's congressional delegation were largely silent in the days after the disclosure by Loux that he gave himself and other staffers raises up to 16 percent.Gov. Jim Gibbons demanded that Loux resign, but the director's fate rests with a seven-member Commission on Nuclear Projects that oversees his office.It is not clear when the case will be resolved. A commission meeting that was set for Tuesday has been canceled because of a failure to post a timely public notice. Commission chairman Richard Bryan said a new hearing might be Sept. 29 in Las Vegas.The pay scandal has sparked discussion in op-ed pages whether the state should take stock of its battle against Yucca Mountain.While polls show a majority of Nevadans oppose Yucca Mountain, there are citizens who believe the massive government project could provide an economic shot in the arm.Some others argue the repository is inevitable and the state should protect its interests rather than battle to the end.Reid insisted that only a "tiny segment" favors such a plan, and Ensign added that "there are no benefits to get."Chuck Muth, a Carson City conservative activist who has written that Nevada should reconsider its Yucca Mountain stance, said residents "have not gotten both sides of the story where they can make an intelligent decision" on the project."After 20 years, Nevadans have to look at the chance that it may come here," Muth said. "Is Yucca Mountain the best place? Maybe, maybe not. But we are not going to know if we just say no, no, no in knee-jerk fashion and not get the facts."Muth has acknowledged he has received backing from the pro-Yucca Nuclear Energy Institute, including $5,000 to buy gifts for attendees at a Conservative Leadership Conference in Las Vegas this week.State scientists have argued that deadly nuclear particles will escape Yucca Mountain, contaminate the environment, create a safety hazard and ruin the tourist-driven economy of Las Vegas, 100 miles southeast of the Mountain. Those arguments will be weighed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which last week opened a three- to four-year review period for a Yucca construction license.Reid said some of Yucca's "cheerleaders" are leaving Congress, such as Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and momentum is building toward reprocessing the waste instead of disposing it immediately.
Review-Journal writers Keith Rogers and Sean Whaley contributed to this report. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760.
Scientists question comparing nuclear waste storage costs
Senate Yucca Mountain foes seek figures
WASHINGTON -- Government analysts are undertaking a study to compare the costs of building a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain against the costs of leaving the waste at power plants, where it is now stored.
But scientists who spoke up Thursday at a briefing said the idea of such a study didn't make sense to them. There are so many uncertainties, such a comparison might be near-impossible, they said.
One expert said issues of cost historically have been low priorities when it comes to disposing of deadly waste compared to other impacts on society.
Nonetheless, the Government Accountability Office is tackling the study at the request of senators Harry Reid, D-Nev., John Ensign, R-Nev., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
As part of a strategy to derail the ongoing government effort to bury nuclear waste at the Yucca site in Nevada, the senators introduced a bill that would leave radioactive spent fuel at reactor sites, where they now are stored in pools, and increasingly in concrete and steel dry cask silos.
One thing that is not known is how those economics stack up against Yucca Mountain, which the Department of Energy estimated earlier this summer could cost $96.2 billion to build and operate.
GAO officials said they are consulting experts as they put together a study plan. Thursday they turned to the Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board, an arm of the National Academy of Science, for advice on how they might proceed.
Analyst Ryan Gotschall said the GAO also plans to compare the costs of establishing interim storage sites, where nuclear waste could be kept for a hundred years before being moved to a final destination.
Radiation board members were skeptical a study could be done, or even was necessary.
Thomas Isaacs, director of policy and planning at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said the thought troubled him.
Isaacs, a former Department of Energy strategic planning director, said policymakers placed economics last, behind health and safety and environmental protection, when they set a direction years ago for nuclear waste disposal.
They decided cost "should not be the driver for how the country decided to deal with this very vexing public policy issue," Isaacs said.
"Doing nothing ... has always been the cheapest thing to do," Isaacs said. "You don't have to do much of a study. I can tell you what the answer is. The answer is 'nothing.' "
Board Chairman Richard Meserve, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the emphasis on cost "is completely contrary to how we deal with all our issues dealing with waste."
"It may be exactly what you were asked to do, but I would suggest it does not make much sense," Meserve told the GAO officials.
Several board members recognized a political purpose for the study.
"You are trying to make the best of a set of questions that you did not get a chance to design," Kevin Crowley, the board's executive director, told the analysts.
"It reminds me of the discussion that has been going on the last couple of days involving cosmetics and certain farm animals," Crowley said in a reference to debate in the presidential campaign over the phrase "lipstick on a pig."
Jon Summers, a spokesman for Reid, said the report is not due until May.
"We hope the GAO will shed some unbiased light on the costs associated with nuclear waste storage -- both on-site and in the proposed dump," Summers said. "American taxpayers deserve to know the costs associated with nuclear energy, particularly as some people are pushing it as a possible solution to the nation's energy challenges."
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@ reviewjournal.com or 202-783-1760.
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