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Senator Pete V. Domenici
CHAIRMAN PETE V. DOMENICI
Department of Energy's
Yucca Mountain Project
May 16, 2005
The Committee shall come to order.
The purpose of this hearing is to evaluate the progress of the Department of Energy=s Yucca Mountain program and get a better overall sense of where the project is today.
I would dare say that it is no secret to anyone in Washington that I am a zealous proponent of expanding our nation’s nuclear power generation. Currently, we derive 20% of electricity from nuclear power. But in this age of concern over our nation’s energy security and worry about destructive results of climate change, we ought to be promoting more and more development of this limitless domestic source of energy that produces no air emissions.
But as we do that, we also need to get on with a plan for the spent fuel. Each year, American commercial reactors continue to produce 2,000 more metric tons of spent fuel. Right now, more than 55,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste is now stored at more than 121 sites in 39 states. These reactors sit rather quietly and produce clean, emission free electricity – Americans get the benefit of clean air and can always depend on the lights coming on in their homes.
Beyond the need to maintain a high standard of living for Americans and a robust economy that is largely energy driven, we must consider the national security element that is also related to this spent fuel project.
It is important to keep in mind that forty percent of our nation’s warships are powered by nuclear fuel, which eventually becomes spent fuel and needs to be disposed of in Yucca Mountain.
Additionally, final disposition is also needed for the spent fuel from the foreign research reactor programs. Under these research programs, the United States provided nuclear fuel for foreign research reactor programs with the requirement that participating countries must return the fuel to the United States for disposition. Repatriating this spent nuclear fuel to the United States is essential to prevent the proliferation of nuclear materials around the world.
The Yucca Mountain project has a long pedigree, starting back to the late 1950’s when the National Academy of Sciences reported to the Atomic Energy Commission suggesting that burying radioactive high-level waste in geologic formations should receive consideration.
The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 established a system for selecting a geologic repository for the permanent disposal of up to 70,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste. The Department of Energy shortly thereafter entered into contracts with utilities that owned nuclear reactors with the expectation to begin taking spent nuclear fuel by 1998.
However, it wasn’t until 2002, that the Congress passed and President Bush signed H.J. Res 87, approving the site at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, for the development of a geologic repository for the disposal of high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel. The viewpoint in 2002 of many in the Congress was this issue was considered “closed.”
But, we’ve found that isn’t the case at all. I believe many of my colleagues today would ask, “Why are we here? Wasn’t this issue solved in 2002? What needs to be done to get the program back on track?”
I would like the answers to these questions today and explore with the witnesses how to make this program work.
Testifying before the committee today are:
Mr. Paul Golan, Acting Director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste at the Department of Energy;
Mr. William Wehrum, Jr., Acting Assistant Administrator, Office of Air and Radiation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency;
Dr. John Garrick, Chairman, U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board;
Mr. Bob Loux, Executive Director, Agency of Nuclear Projects, Nuclear Waste Project Office within the Office of Governor of Nevada.
Witness Panel 1
Dr. John GarrickChairmanU.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board
B. John Garrick, Chairman
U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
United States Senate
May 16, 2006
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, good morning. My name is John Garrick.
I am Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board. The 11 members of the Board are appointed by the President and serve on a part-time basis. Most of us have full-time occupations. In my case, I am a consultant specializing in the application of the risk sciences to complex technological systems in the space, defense, chemical, marine, and nuclear fields. I am pleased to represent the Board at this hearing on the status of the Yucca Mountain program.
As you know, Mr. Chairman, the Board was created by Congress in the 1987
amendments to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and charged with performing an ongoing and
independent evaluation of the technical and scientific validity of Department of Energy (DOE) activities related to disposing of, packaging, and transporting high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel. The Board began its work in 1989 and has continuously reviewed the technical and scientific validity of DOE activities since that time.
The Board’s technical evaluation focuses on preclosure and postclosure issues, including
(1) the operational, safety, and security performance of the proposed repository and (2) the
overall performance of the integrated waste management system. The Board believes that a
central part of its mandate is providing information on its technical evaluation to members of
Congress who will make important decisions on the management and disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. For that reason, the Board is especially pleased to participate today in this hearing on the status of the proposed repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
Mr. Chairman, over the last 18 months or so, the Board held a series of meetings with the
DOE that enabled the Board to engage in detailed technical discussions of methods of analysis used by the program. The Board will soon release a report to Congress and the Secretary of Energy that summarizes the Board's activities over the last year and that includes details of its evaluation of the DOE’s technical and scientific work. In my testimony today, I will highlight some of the key issues discussed in that report and other issues that have emerged in the last few weeks.
Before I discuss in more detail the Board’s technical evaluation of DOE activities related
to Yucca Mountain, I want to make clear that, in general, the Board believes that the DOE has made meaningful progress over the last year, especially in obtaining information on the
performance capability of the engineered barrier system and on the chemistry, magnitude, and rates of mountain-scale groundwater flow in the unsaturated and saturated zones under ambient temperature conditions. Using sophisticated simulation models, the DOE also has improved its ability to evaluate preclosure and postclosure performance as an integrated system. In addition, efforts have been made to reorganize the program, and a major proposal for implementing a canister-based system that can accommodate storage, transportation, and disposal of spent nuclear fuel has been proposed. As a result, the Board believes that additional evidence necessary for credibly evaluating the performance of the entire waste system can be developed. I will now discuss in more detail the status of some important technical issues.
Realistic Performance Assessment
Mr. Chairman, as you would expect, the DOE's efforts to prepare a license application
have dominated its work for the last several years. The primary tool used by the DOE to
evaluate the performance of the repository is total system performance assessment, or TSPA.
TSPA is a comprehensive set of computer models that uses experience, available data,
assumptions, and probabilities to estimate potential dose and compliance with the regulatory
standard. Uncertainty is necessarily associated with these projections that are made for periods of up to one million years. To deal with uncertainty or gaps in understanding, the DOE often uses what it considers conservative assumptions about the features or processes being modeled.
Examples of this are the ways that the DOE models the temperature dependence of generalized corrosion rates, sorption in the saturated zone, and the containment capability of some parts of the engineered barrier system.
However, because the DOE’s assumptions are not always conservative, the overall
degree of conservatism is hard to assess. Consequently, TSPA may not give a realistic picture of how a proposed repository would perform. The Board believes that carrying out realistic performance analyses, perhaps in parallel with efforts to develop a compliance case, could establish a “baseline” for measuring how conservative?or nonconservative?the DOE's repository performance estimates might be. Having this information would provide decisionmakers, the scientific community, and affected parties with important and relevant information.
In addition, the Board believes that there is considerable uncertainty about the source
term incorporated in TSPA. (The source term refers to the compositions, kinds, and amounts of radionuclides that make up the source of a potential release of radioactivity from the engineered barrier system to the host rock.) To increase confidence in performance estimates, the Board has suggested that the DOE focus on analyzing the source term and tracking the radionuclides most significant to dose (neptunium-237 and plutonium-242) through the engineered and natural systems. The DOE is trying to increase its understanding of the source term through work sponsored by its Science and Technology Program. The Board believes that this important work should continue.
The Engineered System
The outer barrier of the waste package is made of a corrosion-resistant material known as
Alloy 22. Alloy 22 will not corrode significantly unless liquid water is present on the waste
package surface. The higher the temperature at which liquid water is present, the greater the
concern because metals corrode faster and are more susceptible to corrosion at higher
temperatures. The DOE maintains that potential localized corrosion of Alloy 22 at elevated
temperatures under aqueous conditions can be excluded from its TSPA calculations. In the
Board's view, the technical basis for the exclusion is not compelling. The Board continues to
believe that obtaining experimental data on localized corrosion should be a high priority,
especially given the DOE’s current high-temperature repository design. In addition, future
performance assessments should not exclude general corrosion at elevated temperatures when aqueous conditions are predicted to be present. The Board will hold a workshop in September at which issues related to localized corrosion will be discussed.
The Natural System
The natural geologic system at Yucca Mountain will play an important role as a barrier to
radionuclide transport. Properties of the natural system will affect the speed of transport and the effectiveness of the engineered barriers. Over time, the DOE has continued to refine and update its model for flow and transport in the unsaturated zone. At this point, no evidence has been developed that calls into question the DOE’s long-held view that flow in the unsaturated zone is dominated by fractures and faults. In addition, the Project’s findings on the chemistry of water in the unsaturated and saturated zones appear broadly consistent with a large body of empirical data and experience. However, the Board continues to question the DOE's understanding of the unsaturated zone beneath the proposed repository in relation to retarding and retaining radionuclides. The Board believes that obtaining additional information on radionuclide transport is warranted, especially on secondary minerals and on colloid-facilitated radionuclide transport. Such information could be important for assessing repository performance. For example, if future investigations confirm that neptunium is captured in secondary mineral phases, estimates of the natural system’s capability to isolate dose-contributing radionuclides could increase.
The Waste Management System
The Board believes that the DOE's new proposal for a canister-based system for
transporting, aging, and disposing of (TAD) spent fuel holds promise as a way of minimizing the handling of bare spent-fuel assemblies and simplifying the design of surface facilities at Yucca Mountain. However, the success of such an approach depends on a number of factors, including close cooperation and coordination among the DOE, nuclear utilities, and cask vendors. The DOE also must consider the range of consequences associated with implementing the TAD concept for preclosure and postclosure performance. The DOE's evaluation of TAD should include a more complete set of scenarios for waste acceptance, waste transportation, repository operations, design of repository surface facilities, and waste emplacement in the repository.
The DOE has developed the Total System Model (TSM), which can be used as a tool for
analyzing a variety of preclosure scenarios and the performance of the entire waste management system. The TSM can be used to examine system throughput and to identify possible choke points; it can assess the effects of delayed construction of a rail spur; and it can evaluate conditions that contribute to efficient operation of the surface facilities. For the TSM to be used most effectively, it should have the ability to represent "upset" conditions and to analyze all waste management components, including emplacement. The TSM also should be based on the most up-to-date information, and the assumptions underlying the model should be confirmed.
Because of funding constraints, much of the Project’s anticipated work on establishing a
transportation network has been deferred. Nonetheless, the Board believes that the Project
should perform a comparative risk analysis of rail corridors that might be used for moving spent fuel and high-level radioactive waste to Yucca Mountain, and, once that analysis has been completed, should inform all interested and affected parties of what routes it prefers. The DOE also should develop a contingency plan for greater use of legal-weight and heavy-haul trucking.
An issue that permeates preclosure operations as well as postclosure repository
performance is the DOE's strategy for managing the heat generated by radioactive decay. For example, postclosure thermal requirements create constraints on plans for preclosure operations and the design of surface facilities at Yucca Mountain. Moreover, implementation of TAD will have implications for the thermal management strategy that do not appear to have been fully considered. As mentioned earlier, after the repository is closed, above-boiling repository temperatures that will last for about 1,000 years (the so-called thermal pulse) will affect the performance of the engineered system, including the waste packages. In particular, the potential for localized corrosion to initiate during the thermal pulse has yet to be resolved. In general, the Board believes that the DOE should consider the systemwide implications of and strengthen the technical basis for its thermal-management strategy, which also will be important for licensing.
I have referred several times in my statement to one or another “system." The Board
often uses this term to emphasize that all the elements involved in packaging, transporting, and disposing of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste are connected, so the assessment of the behavior and performance of one element may strongly depend on or affect the behavior and performance of others. The Board believes that the DOE’s preclosure and postclosure plans for the repository should recognize and accommodate those interdependencies. That is the reason that, over the years, the Board has strongly recommended integration of program elements across the broad range of scientific and engineering activities. The Board believes that any program reorganization should reflect the need to facilitate this essential integration.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, the Board believes that the technical work I have just discussed is
doable and will enhance confidence in estimates of the performance of the repository and the waste-management system. The Board thanks the Committee for inviting it to participate in this hearing and hopes that the information we have furnished today will be helpful in providing a technical context for important decisions that you will make on disposing of and managing spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste.
Mr. Paul GolanActing DirectorOffice of Civilian Radioactive Waste, U.S. Department of Energy
Statement of Paul M. Golan
Acting Director for the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management
U.S. Department of Energy
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
May 16, 2006
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, my name is Paul Golan and I am the Acting Director of the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM). I appreciate the opportunity to provide an update of the Yucca Mountain Project to the Committee.
About a year ago, Secretary Bodman asked us to take a hard look at Yucca Mountain to find ways in his words to “make it safer, make it simpler, and make it more reliable.” With that direction, we have taken actions to improve our operations and processes. I would like to discuss those actions today, including:
1. The clean-canistered approach to waste handling
2. Resolution of concerns associated with infiltration modeling done by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
3. Designation of Sandia National Laboratories as the Project’s lead laboratory
4. Use of independent scientific review
5. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Radiation Protection Standards
6. Need for a second repository
7. Licensing schedule
1. Clean-canistered approach to waste handling
In October 2005, the Department announced a redirection for the Project to a primarily clean-canistered approach to spent nuclear fuel handling operations. A single canister would be used to transport, age, and dispose of the spent nuclear fuel without needing to re-open the waste package and handle individual fuel assemblies. While a transportation, aging, and disposal canister, or TAD, is not certified today, we believe that the technical challenges of this approach can be resolved and will result in simpler, safer, and more reliable operations.
We are working with industry to develop canister specifications and working diligently on an acquisition strategy. Under this approach, the spent nuclear fuel will be packaged for disposal primarily by the utilities. This would allow the Department to take advantage of existing commercial capability and to reduce the risks of radiation exposure and contamination from spent nuclear fuel handling operations at the repository by reducing the need to handle individual fuel assemblies several times prior to packaging for final disposal.
The clean-canistered approach requires an examination of the existing repository design and operations. Additional time is required to develop and revise portions of the license application in support of this new approach. The Department is currently reviewing the existing design and developing the appropriate documentation to support a Secretarial decision on the clean-canistered approach. A decision is expected later this summer.
2. Infiltration work performed by the USGS
In March 2005, the Department became aware of Project emails between some employees of the USGS that suggested non-compliance with certain quality assurance (QA) requirements associated with their work in preparing the water infiltration model and maps. Infiltration is aparameter in the Total System Performance Model predicting the flow of water through the mountain over time.
In February 2006, the Department issued a technical report, evaluating the infiltration estimates developed by the USGS. The independent technical evaluation found the infiltration work completed by the USGS to be consistent with the conclusions of infiltration work completed by scientists independent of this Project, including the State of Nevada’s Engineering Officer, under present and future predicted climate conditions. Our review also confirmed that the net infiltration rate of precipitation into Yucca Mountain is very small, in the range of one to six percent of annual precipitation (which itself is a very small amount, approximately 7.5 inches per year).
While we found that the science was sound, some of our QA requirements were not met, and consequently we are expending time and resources to replace the affected work. We have directed Sandia National Laboratories to develop computer codes that will generate new infiltration rate estimates---in accordance with our QA requirements---and then replace the infiltration rate estimates. The Sandia infiltration rates will be independently reviewed prior to incorporation into the Total System Performance Model.
3. Lead national laboratory
In January 2006, the OCRWM designated Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico the lead laboratory to coordinate and organize all scientific work on the Yucca Mountain Project. Since this Program represents a major scientific and technical challenge, we want to ensure the Program takes full advantage of the resources that reside in our national laboratories.
Today we are working to transition the scientific work to Sandia and expect to complete that transition by the end of the year.
4. Use of independent scientific review
To further ensure the highest quality and objectivity of the science and technology supporting the Yucca Mountain Project, we are working to instill a culture of “trust but verify.” As part of this effort, we will use a University-based consortium to independently review key aspects of the Project to ensure we stay objective and without bias. In April, the Department selected the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education to perform this work. Additionally, we are in the process of implementing the Safety Conscious Work Environment across the entire Yucca Mountain Project.
5. EPA Radiation Protection Standards
In August 2005, the EPA proposed revised standards for Yucca Mountain in response to a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia which vacated portions of the existing EPA radiation protection standards. Specifically, in response to the decision, EPA proposed a radiological exposure limit for the time of peak dose to the general public for a one-million year period following the disposal of waste at Yucca Mountain. This new evaluation period is 100 times longer than the previous period of 10,000 years, and it is longer than any other regulatory period involving quantitative limits.
The proposed EPA rule retains the existing 10,000-year individual protection standard of 15 milliRem per year, and supplements it with an additional standard of 350 milliRem per year at the time of peak dose.
The Department supports the EPA approach.
A rule with two compliance periods recognizes the extraordinary challenges in making quantitative predictions of effects a million years from now. It recognizes:
• The limitations of bounding analyses,
• The greater uncertainties at the time of peak risk, as well as
• The lessened precision in calculated results as time and uncertainties increase.
Retaining the existing 15 milliRem per year standard for the initial 10,000-years ensures that the repository design will include prudent steps, including the use of engineered and natural barriers to limit offsite doses.
Through the one-million year performance period, the natural and engineered barriers will continue to keep exposure levels low, below what many people receive today, depending
on where they work or where they live. The proposed 350 milliRem annual limit for the out years reflects a level of risk that society normally lives with today. The allowable dose for an individual at the location of peak dose at Yucca Mountain, several hundred thousand years in the future, for example, would be no greater than the average dose a resident of Denver, Colorado, or other similar high-altitude location receives today.
Further, studies have not detected that people living in areas with higher levels of natural background radiation have a higher rate of cancer or other radiation-linked illnesses than do those living in areas with lower levels of natural background radiation.
6. Need for a second repository
The Department will form a task team to evaluate the need for a second repository. The Department will provide its report, as required by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (NWPA), to the President and Congress between 2007 and 2010. The Department has projected that more than one hundred thousand metric tons of spent nuclear fuel will be generated by the current licensed commercial reactor fleet, there will be a need for capacity in excess of 70,000 metric tons which is the administrative limit currently imposed by the NWPA on the Yucca Mountain repository.
7. Licensing schedule
The Department is committed to developing a realistic schedule that will result in the submission of a robust license application. Later this summer, we will publish our schedule and strategy for submittal of the license application to the NRC which will be consistent with Section 114 (e) of the Act that directs the Secretary to develop a plan “that portrays the optimum way to attain the operation of the repository.” After we publish this schedule, we will provide the Committee and its staff briefings.
Over the last 50 years, our Nation has benefited greatly from nuclear energy and the power of the atom, but we have been left with a legacy marked by the generation and accumulation of more than 50,000 metric tons of commercially generated spent nuclear fuel, 2,500 metric tons of DOE spent nuclear fuel, and an estimated 20,000 or more canisters of DOE high-level radioactive waste. Additionally, 2,000 metric tons of commercial spent nuclear fuel will be generated this year and in every succeeding year by the current fleet of commercial electrical power generating reactors as they supply 20% of our Nation’s electricity.
There is a clear national need for Yucca Mountain, even if we could reduce our national electricity consumption by 20% and were able to shut down every commercial reactor and nuclear project in the country today. We are taking steps to ensure that we develop and construct the safest, simplest repository that we possible can, based on sound science and quality work.
There is a strong international scientific consensus that the best and safest option for dealing with this waste is geologic isolation. This consensus includes the National Academy of Sciences which has generally endorsed the geologic disposal option as far back as 1957.
To conclude, I believe that our license application will provide the necessary assurances that we can operate Yucca Mountain in compliance with the performance requirements of the EPA and the NRC. We will also demonstrate that our approach to operations will be carefully planned, logical, and methodical.
That completes my prepared statement.
Mr. William WehrumActing Assistant AdministratorOffice of Air and Radiation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
ACTING ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR FOR AIR AND RADIATION
U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
BEFORE THE U.S. SENATE
COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES
May 16, 2006
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:
Good morning. My name is Bill Wehrum and I am the Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation at the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”). I am pleased to be here today to provide you with an update on the status of EPA’s public health and safety standards for the proposed spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
I would like to begin by providing the Committee with a short history of EPA’s responsibilities and why we have proposed revised standards. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 described the roles and responsibilities of federal agencies in the development of disposal facilities for spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste. EPA was identified as the agency responsible for establishing standards to protect the general environment from such facilities. In the Energy Policy Act of 1992, Congress delineated EPA’s roles and responsibilities specific to the federal government’s establishment of the potential repository at Yucca Mountain. EPA’s role is to determine how the Yucca Mountain high-level waste facility must perform to protect public health and the environment. Congress directed EPA to develop public health and safety standards that would be incorporated into the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (“NRC”) licensing requirements for the Yucca Mountain facility. The Department of Energy (“DOE”) would apply for the license to construct and operate the facility and the facility would open only if NRC determines that DOE can meet EPA’s standards. In establishing EPA’s role, Congress also stated that the EPA’s safety standards are to be based upon and consistent with the expert advice of the National Academy of Sciences.
EPA established its Yucca Mountain standards in June 2001. As required by the Energy Policy Act, these standards addressed releases of radioactive material during storage at the site and after final disposal. The storage standard set a dose limit of 15 millirem per year for the public outside the Yucca Mountain site. The disposal standards consisted of three components: an individual dose standard, a standard evaluating the impacts of human intrusion into the repository, and a ground-water protection standard. The individual-protection and humanintrusion standards set a limit of 15 millirem per year to a reasonably maximally exposed individual, who would be among the most highly exposed members of the public. The groundwater protection standard is consistent with EPA's drinking water standards, which the Agency applies in many situations as a pollution prevention measure. The disposal standards were to apply for a period of 10,000 years after the facility is closed. Dose assessments were to continue beyond 10,000 years and be placed in DOE's Environmental Impact Statement, but were not subject to a compliance standard. The 10,000 year period for compliance assessment is consistent with EPA's generally applicable standards developed under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. It also reflects international guidance regarding the level of confidence that can be placed in numerical projections over very long periods of time.
Shortly after the EPA first established these standards in 2001, the nuclear industry, several
environmental and public interest groups, and the State of Nevada challenged the standards in court. In July 2004, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found in favor of the Agency on all counts except one: the 10,000 year regulatory timeframe. The court did not rule on whether EPA’s standards were protective, but did find that the timeframe of EPA’s standards was not consistent with the National Academy of Sciences’ recommendations. The National Academy of Sciences, in a report to EPA, stated that the EPA’s standards should cover at least the time period when the highest releases of radiation are most likely to occur, within the limits imposed by the geologic stability of the Yucca Mountain site. It judged this period of geologic stability, for purposes of projecting releases from the repository, to be on the order of one million years. EPA’s 2001 standards required DOE to evaluate the performance of the site for this period, but did not establish a specific dose limit beyond the first 10,000 years.
EPA proposed a revised rule in August 2005 to address the issues raised by the appeals court. The new proposed rule limits radiation doses from Yucca Mountain for up to one million years after it closes. No other rules in the U.S. for any risks have ever attempted to regulate for such a long period of time. Within that regulatory timeframe, we have proposed two dose standards that would apply based on the number of years from the time the facility is closed. For the first 10,000 years, we would retain the 2001 final rule’s dose limit of 15 millirem per year. This is protection at the level of the most stringent radiation regulations in the U.S. today. From 10,000 to one million years, we propose a dose limit of 350 millirem per year. This represents a total radiation exposure for people near Yucca Mountain that is no higher than natural levels people live with routinely in other parts of the country. One million years, which represents 25,000 generations, includes the time at which the highest doses of radiation from the facility are expected to occur. Our proposal requires the Department of Energy to show that Yucca Mountain can safely contain wastes, even considering the effects of earthquakes, volcanic activity, climate change, and container corrosion over one million years.
The public comment period for the proposed rule closed on November 21, 2005. We are
currently reviewing and considering the comments as we develop our final rule. We held public hearings in Las Vegas and Amargosa Valley, Nevada, and Washington, D.C. We are considering comments from these hearings, as well as all of the comments submitted to the Agency’s rulemaking docket. A document describing our responses to all comments will be published along with the final rule. We are making every effort to issue the final standard by the end of 2006.
Thank you again for the opportunity to appear before the Committee and present this update on EPA’s Yucca Mountain standards. This concludes my prepared statement. would be happy to address any questions.
Robert LouxExecutive DirectorAgency for Nuclear Projects, Office of the Governor, State of Nevada
STATEMENT OF ROBERT R. LOUX
NEVADA AGENCY FOR NUCLEAR PROJECTS
BEFORE THE UNITED STATES SENATE
COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES
MAY 16, 2006
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I am Robert Loux, Executive Director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, which is a branch of the Office of the Governor of the State of Nevada. The Agency was established by the Nevada Legislature in 1985, to carry out the State’s oversight duties under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. I have served as the Agency director since it was established. Our Agency also serves as staff for the Nevada Commission on Nuclear Projects.
The current status of the Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste repository project can be described in a single word: unknown – not even uncertain, but unknown. You have heard from the Department of Energy’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management that it cannot provide a schedule for submittal of a Yucca Mountain repository license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for its review. But, Department representatives have said that it will not take place in FY 07. You also have watched the progression of potential repository opening dates go from the statutory 1998 date to a more recent estimate of 2010, and now to maybe 2015 to 2020. Multiple episodes of “redirection” of the program, both from within the Department of Energy and from the Congress, define the past twenty years of the Yucca Mountain project history. The current status of the Yucca Mountain project, within the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, is a product of fundamental, persistent and unresolved problems, with both the site and the project execution, overlain by layers of redirection that wrongly assume the problems have been, or will be resolved.
Site Recommendation and Technical Basis for License Application
At the time of the Secretary of Energy’s Site Recommendation for development of a Yucca Mountain repository on February 14, 2002, it was stated that a license application would be submitted to NRC in late 2004. This plan was announced despite the Nuclear Waste Policy Act requirement that a license application be submitted not later than 90 days after the site designation becomes effective by an act of Congress, which occurred in July 2002. In November 2004, it was announced that the license application would not be submitted during the following month, and it was not known when it would be submitted.
This failure to submit the license application in 2004 came as no surprise, since a regulatory prerequisite for license application submittal had not been met. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission Licensing Support Network Rule requires that DOE certify it has made all documentary material in its possession on the proposed Yucca Mountain high-level waste repository publicly available, in a prescribed manner, at least six months prior to submission of a license application. The intent of this is to expedite the discovery phase of the licensing hearing to meet the tight statutory schedule for a licensing decision by the NRC. On August 31, 2004, the NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board ruled that the DOE’s June 30, 2004 certification was based on incomplete documentation, and the manner in which DOE made the material publicly available on its own internet web site failed to satisfy the regulations. Nevada’s July 12, 2004 motion to strike the certification was granted. This all transpired two years after the Yucca Mountain site designation became effective. DOE has not tendered a new certification, and in its monthly status reports to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, as late as this month, stated that it does not have a schedule for resumption of the process.
At the time of the Site Recommendation, DOE announced its priorities for FY 03 were to:
a) “continue vigorous scientific investigation of repository system behavior;
b) develop a repository license application; and
c) accelerate the transportation program.”
This confirms that, contrary to statements by then Secretary Abraham and President Bush, the repository program managers were not prepared to move forward with the licensing process, since by law, site characterization, i.e. scientific work, is complete at the time of Site Recommendation with respect to the sufficiency of information for a license application. President Bush, in a February 15, 2002 letter to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, said, “This recommendation…will permit commencement of the next rigorous stage of scientific review of the repository program through formal licensing proceedings before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.” (emphasis added).
Even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission understood that at the time of Site Recommendation, the information for a license application was insufficient because, in its statutorily required statement to the President of its view on whether the “at depth site characterization and waste form proposal seem to be sufficient for inclusion” in the license application, its response was a forecast, not a finding. The Commission indicated confidence that the information would be sufficient at the time of license application, but still pending with the Commission was the resolution of 293 Key Technical Issues that DOE had agreed with the NRC staff to have resolved prior to submission of a license application.
The Nuclear Waste Policy Act also required that a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for a Yucca Mountain repository accompany the Site Recommendation by the Secretary to the President. The FEIS is the primary document that explains and describes the Proposed Action and the analyses of the impacts of that action. It included some (although far from complete) analysis of the plans to transport the waste to Yucca Mountain from sites in 35 states where the waste is currently generated and stored. However, a Record of Decision, the mandatory document which records a federal decision based upon the FEIS process, did not accompany the Site Recommendation, as it must have if DOE was ready to proceed with the licensing and development phase of the repository project. It was not until April 2004 that DOE issued a Record of Decision that adopted the preferred alternative of mostly rail transportation to Yucca Mountain and selected the 319 mile-long Caliente Corridor as the Nevada rail construction route to Yucca Mountain – the most costly and difficult of the five alternatives reviewed in the FEIS. Since then DOE has been in the process of preparing a Draft EIS for the alignment and construction of that rail line, which is now estimated to cost, not the originally estimated just under $1 billion, but $2 billion.
In February 2004, the Yucca Mountain project, after at least three drafts of a license application had been developed, began a comprehensive evaluation of the key building blocks of the license application, referred to as Analysis Model Reports (AMRs) that are intended to cover all safety and performance aspects of the post-closure repository. This was followed by a critical review of a few selected AMRs by NRC staff, the results of which forecast to observers a difficult and uncertain license application review if both substantive and procedural (including Quality Assurance) remediation was not undertaken. The Project’s Regulatory Integration Team (RIT), consisting of 150 scientists and regulatory experts, was created to address problems of traceability and transparency in the documents to ensure they met NRC requirements and expectations. The RIT identified 3,733 Action Items in its review of 117 AMRs (which were later consolidated into 89 AMRs). The large majority of items in need of revision were in the area of insufficient or unclear justification of scientific conclusions (73%). Technical issues made up 7 percent, and procedural inadequacies were the remaining 20 percent. The result was that 89 documents were in need of either significant updating or total revision. The RIT completed its work in an 8-month period, at a cost of about $20 million. After completion, other AMRs not in the original scope of review were found to need similar scrutiny. The Total System Performance Assessment, the composite model that projects safety compliance of the repository, was undergoing subsequent revision in 2005 and will continue to be revised, based on new developments in late 2005 that will be discussed below.
An acceptable Quality Assurance program and requirements, procedures, and the demonstration of its effective implementation are integral and indispensable elements of a license application. The Yucca Mountain project has been plagued by Quality Assurance deficiencies since its inception. Even before the 1987 Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act, DOE was aware of Quality Assurance problems and the long-term implications of not correcting them and assuring that an acceptable Quality Assurance program was persistent and enduring. In its June 1987 OCRWM Mission Plan Amendment (DOE/RW-0128), DOE wrote:
“As a result of quality-assurance audits performed by the DOE, “stop-work” orders were issued to contractors working on the Hanford and the Yucca Mountain projects. The DOE found that the technical and management controls for work performed before site characterization were not adequate for site characterization activities. A general upgrading of procedures and controls is being implemented to satisfy NRC requirements for establishing a licensing basis and DOE requirements for a major system acquisition. Personnel associated with the stopped work were immediately assigned to develop the required procedures and controls and were given intensified training in quality assurance. The “stop-work” orders were gradually being lifted on certain activities at both sites as the DOE receives evidence that the quality assurance requirements are satisfied.” (Page 5).
Since 1988, the General Accounting Office, now the Government Accountability Office, has identified Quality Assurance problems in the Yucca Mountain project in at least 8 reports, some devoted solely to the issue of Quality Assurance (QA). In 1988, GAO warned that the project should not proceed until it had an adequate QA program in place. GAO found, in 1990, that the project did not comply with NRC QA requirements. In 1992, GAO again pointed out the need for an adequate QA program. Reports in 2003 and 2004 spoke to the persistent QA problems. In testimony just last month, on April 25, 2006, to the House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform, Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce and Agency Organization, the GAO Director for Natural Resources and the Environment concluded, based on GAO’s most recent report, the following:
“DOE has a long history of trying to resolve quality assurance problems in its Yucca Mountain project. Now, after more than 20 years of work, DOE once again faces serious quality assurance and other challenges while seeking a new path forward to a fully defensible license application. Even as DOE faces new quality assurance challenges, it cannot be certain that it has resolved past problems. It is clear that DOE has not been well served by management tools that have not effectively identified and tracked progress on significant and recurring problems. As a result, DOE has not had a strong basis to assess progress in addressing management weaknesses or to direct management attention to significant and recurrent problems as needed. Unless these quality assurance problems are addressed, further delays on the project are likely.”
The GAO Director was testifying in the hearing as part of an ongoing House Subcommittee investigation of possible data and Quality Assurance documentation falsification by a few United States Geological Survey scientists modeling groundwater infiltration for the Yucca Mountain project. Groundwater infiltration is key to the repository safety projection in that it affects first the corrosion and failure rate of the metal waste containers, and then the rate of release of radionuclides to the environment. The investigation stemmed from the revelation of e-mails exchanged among the scientists between 1998 and 2000, but only first discovered by DOE contractor reviewers in late 2004 and revealed to DOE in March 2005. Inspectors General of both the Department of Energy and the Department of Interior investigated the case extensively, looking at e-mail records from the identified time period and later. The reports of the field investigations were forwarded to the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Nevada, which, on April 24, 2006, declined to pursue criminal prosecution in the matter.
After closing his investigation, in an unusual move, the DOE Inspector General wrote to the Secretary of Energy of his findings and concerns because, during the course of the investigation, “certain internal control deficiencies were identified which were pertinent to the core allegations we were pursuing.” The concerns were over three specific matters: 1) “The nearly six-year delay in surfacing and appropriately dealing with the controversial e-mails was inconsistent with sound quality assurance protocols” (this was the subject of a November 9, 2005 Inspector General Report, Quality Assurance Weaknesses in the Review of Yucca Mountain Electronic Mail for Relevancy to the Licensing Process, DOE/IG-0708); 2) “Compromise of scientific notebook requirements” (which, in this case were waived to resolve the fact that, contrary to requirements, no scientific notebook had been initiated or kept for the infiltration model work); and 3) “Critical control files relating to the “Simulation of Net Infiltration for Modern and Potential Future Climates” AMR were not maintained in accordance with data management system requirements.” The Inspector General concluded:
“The discovery of the e-mails that prompted the Office of Inspector General Criminal Investigation understandably raised concerns over the Yucca Mountain Project’s quality assurance process. The Department has announced that, in order to address these concerns, it has initiated steps to remediate or replace certain work of the Geological Survey and that the quality of the results of this effort will be reviewed by a body of scientists independent of the Yucca Mountain Project. We concluded that these steps are essential in the Yucca Mountain Project is to overcome historical and current quality assurance concerns.”
That the e-mail situation was not an isolated problem seems to have been accepted even by Energy Secretary Bodman, who said, on April 12, that the culture of the Yucca Mountain organization was “reflected in” the U.S.G.S. e-mail affair. This would suggest the question of whether the scientific underpinnings of the entire Yucca Mountain project merit confidence. For example, the GAO Director’s testimony also described a February 2006 stop-work order on Yucca Mountain work at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory:
“We believe this incident is an example of how the project’s management tools have not been effective in bringing quality assurance problems to top management’s attention. After observing a DOE quality assurance audit at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in August 2005, NRC expressed concern that humidity gauges used in scientific experiments at the project were not properly calibrated – an apparent violation of quality assurance requirements. According to an NRC official, NRC communicated these findings to BSC [Bechtel-SAIC] and DOE project officials on six occasions between August and December 2005, and issued a formal report and letter to DOE on January 9, 2006. However, despite these communications and the potentially serious quality assurance problems involved, the project’s acting director did not become aware of the issue until January 2006, after reading about it in a news article.” (emphasis added).
The deficient calibration of the gauges, and other experiment execution problems with Quality Assurance connections and sound science implications, discovered in the audit relate to work that is key to the safety assessment for the repository, because it leads to the engineered barrier corrosion rate data that are included in the Yucca Mountain Total System Performance Assessment.
The “Path Forward”
A few of the issues currently confronting the Yucca Mountain project were mentioned in the March 21, 2006 Quarterly Management Meeting between DOE and NRC:
Spent fuel handling, transport, storage, and disposal:
A key element of the Energy Secretary’s new “simpler, safer” approach is the major redesign of the waste handling facilities, based on a changed operational concept for receipt and handling of waste at the Yucca Mountain site. The concept for receiving commercial spent nuclear fuel and packaging it for underground emplacement has changed significantly through the past 15 years, and just recently has taken yet another turn.
At first the spent fuel assemblies were to have been packaged at the reactor in conventional transport containers, brought to the repository site where a few assemblies were to have been placed in a stainless steel container that then would be emplaced in vertical boreholes in the floor of the repository drifts.
The idea of the Multipurpose Container (MPC) then took hold, trying to capitalize on the idea of a large rail container that would increase the payload per container and have the advantage of bringing some uniformity to the cask designs, though the more it was studied, the less uniformity seemed possible because of the variability in fuel types.
The MPC, certified for transport, storage, and disposal, would be loaded with spent fuel assemblies and welded closed at the reactor. The large containers then would be emplaced horizontally in drifts underground at Yucca Mountain. This concept was terminated in 1996 for policy reasons, but also for an important technical reason. Because of the provisions of the DOE’s Standard Contract with utilities (10 CFR Part 961) requiring accepting “oldest fuel first” (which actually means only the oldest reactors were served first), DOE would have no control over the thermal output of the MPCs as they arrived at the repository for underground emplacement. Thermal output of individual assemblies varies as a function of original uranium enrichment percentage, burn-up time in the reactor, and age out-of-reactor. For technical reasons associated with Yucca Mountain repository rock stability and waste form integrity, DOE had to be able to set limits on, and control the thermal characteristics of the stream of waste packages placed in a repository drift. The MPC represented an unsolvable logistics problem for repository loading and thermal management.
The next idea was to bring the spent fuel assemblies to the Yucca Mountain surface facility in newly designed high-payload shipping containers, offload the assemblies into a large, 5,000 metric ton capacity lag storage pool, and then select individual assemblies, based on their thermal characteristics, to be grouped into a disposal container for underground emplacement. In this way, the thermal output of individual containers and the emplacement stream into a disposal drift could be “tailored.”
But, concerns over the safety of the lag storage pool and other transfer pools at the Yucca Mountain surface facility led to a conceptual change in which hot cells would be used for fuel assembly transfers from transportation containers either directly to disposal containers or to storage containers for later assembly selection to maintain the flexibility for thermal “tailoring” of the individual containers and the stream of containers. This is operationally complex and requires rigid controls – but is not impossible.
Then, an analysis indicated the possibility of severe radionuclide contamination and worker safety problems from handling damaged fuel assemblies in the hot cells. Some existing spent fuel is known to be damaged and is a potential contamination source. Also, the expectation is that there is other damaged fuel, though its condition is unknown, and fuel could also be damaged from vibration during transport. This leaves the uncertainty of hot cell contamination and worker safety essentially unknowable for purposes of a safety analysis.
Attempts to resolve this contamination problem apparently were not satisfactory, because the most recent conceptual change, resulting in the current redesign effort, involves elimination of normal operation bare fuel assembly handling in hot cells at the repository surface facility. Instead, the plan is that commercial spent fuel will be loaded into canisters that are welded closed at the reactors, then placed in a transportation overpack for delivery to Yucca Mountain. In the so-called “clean” facility, the welded canisters would then be placed in disposal overpacks for direct emplacement or in storage overpacks for later selection for emplacement. This concept is called “TAD” (Transport, Aging, and Disposal). It has all the same logistical drawbacks as the MPC concept, but adds an “aging,” i.e. storage, facility of at least 21,000 metric ton capacity.
Once the current redesign is complete, it will have to meet the DOE’s administrative review requirements and process in order to be incorporated into the project baseline. It will have to be integrated into the project design and safety case, and its effect on the Total System Performance Assessment will need to be evaluated, because a change in the waste package would be a result of the conceptual change.
In effect, this concept not only revives the failed concept of the MPC program, but calls for the equivalent of a Monitored Retrievable Storage facility at Yucca Mountain, despite the fact that placement of such a facility in Nevada is prohibited by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act as Amended, as long as a repository site is under consideration in the State. Nevada, in the past, has rejected such an attempt by Congress, and the Presidential veto of the bill to develop Interim Storage at the Nevada Test Site, Yucca Mountain’s front door, was sustained.
Uncertainty about the EPA standard:
Nearly nineteen years ago, on June 29, 1987, the DOE Project Manager for the Yucca Mountain site told this Committee:
“The process of doing the modeling and calculations that estimate the radioactive releases from the [Yucca Mountain] repository tells us that we may be five orders of magnitude below a very conservative EPA standard.” He added, “[I]t is not conceivable to me that we would discover something of a major nature that would cause us to change our mind about it [suitability of the site].”
Just five years later, it was clear that the Yucca Mountain site could not meet the EPA standard with respect to atmospheric releases of radioactive carbon-14. After efforts to have EPA relax its standard failed, DOE appealed to Congress, which resulted in a mandate for a new EPA standard, specific to the Yucca Mountain site, as part of the Energy Policy Act of 1992. The direction to EPA is as follows:
“ [EPA] Administrator shall, based upon and consistent with the findings and recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences, promulgate, by rule, public health and safety standards for protection of the public from releases from radioactive materials stored or disposed of in the repository at the Yucca Mountain site. Such standards shall prescribe the maximum annual effective dose equivalent to individual members of the public from releases to the accessible environment from radioactive materials stored or disposed of in the repository.” Section 801(a).
As instructed, EPA contracted with the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) for a report of findings and recommendations to be titled A Technical Bases for Yucca Mountain Standards, which was published in 1995. Among other things, the report found that there is no scientific basis to limit the repository compliance period to 10,000 years as had been done in the original EPA standard; and, its recommendation: “We recommend calculation of the maximum risks of radiation releases whenever they occur as long as the geologic characteristics of the repository environment do not change significantly. The time scale for long-term geologic processes at Yucca Mountain is on the order of approximately one million years.” Page 71-72. The one million year period is referred to in the report as the period of geologic stability during which, the report concluded, it is feasible to make a compliance assessment. The report also noted that, “In the case of Yucca Mountain, at least, some potentially important exposures might not occur until after several hundred thousand years.” Page 55.
In June 2001, EPA promulgated its rule, Public Health and Environmental Radiation Protection Standards for Yucca Mountain, Nevada (40 CFR Part 197). The rule set a regulatory period of 10,000 years for compliance with EPA’s maximum individual dose standard, which was set at 15 millirems per year. A separate groundwater protection standard was also set for the 10,000 year regulatory period, with dose and radionuclide concentration limits consistent with Safe Drinking Water Act standards that apply to all of the nation’s public drinking water supplies. The rule did acknowledge that peak expected doses could occur after the 10,000 year regulatory period and required DOE to calculate the peak individual dose during the period of geologic stability after 10,000 years and include the results in the Yucca Mountain Environmental Impact Statement “as an indicator of long-term disposal system performance.” But, the rule further states, “No regulatory standard applies to the results of this analysis.” Sec. 197.35.
Nevada and others (Nuclear Energy Institute, Natural Resources Defense Council, and several other environmental and public interest organizations) challenged the EPA standard in lawsuits filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in summer 2001. Among Nevada’s and others’ issues was that the setting of a 10,000 year regulatory period was not “based upon and consistent with” the findings and recommendations of the NAS, as required by the Energy Policy Act of 1992. The Court upheld this challenge and vacated that portion of the EPA standard that applied a 10,000 year regulatory period, as well as the portions of the NRC licensing rule (10 CFR Part 63) that adopted EPA’s 10,000 year regulatory period. Nuclear Energy Institute v. Environmental Protection Agency, 373 F.3d 1251 (D.C. Cir. 2004).
The premise of the NAS Technical Bases report is simple and straightforward - humans must be protected from the maximum radiation risk from a nuclear waste repository, whenever that risk is projected to occur. If this protection cannot be reasonably assured at the outset, the problem is with the selected repository site and design, not with the premise. EPA’s selection of a one million year regulatory period is a reflection of the NAS finding that compliance assessment is feasible through that time period for most physical and geologic aspects of a repository at Yucca Mountain, given our knowledge and understanding of the natural characteristics, features, and processes at Yucca Mountain and in the surrounding area. The wide range of possible assumptions about the longevity of the metal waste containers coupled with our current understanding of the physical and hydrologic characteristics of Yucca Mountain indicate it is very likely that the calculated peak individual dose will occur sometime during the million year period of geologic stability.
If there were no metal containers and shields protecting the waste from infiltrating water, DOE’s calculations for time of peak dose (in the Site Recommendation performance assessment) put the average peak at about 2,000 years after repository closure. Using DOE’s optimistic projections of the rate of container failure, the performance calculation shows the time of peak dose at between 200,000 and 300,000 years after closure. The magnitude of the calculated peak dose, in both cases, is approximately the same, and both far exceed 15 millirems per year. In the case with no metal waste containers or shields, a 15 millirem per year standard would be exceeded within 500 years after closure of the repository.
The compliance test for a repository is whether there is reasonable expectation that the statistical maximum dose (or risk) to humans from releases from the repository fall within a pre-established regulatory dose limit. It is of great importance that the complex performance calculation is scientifically credible because the compliance decision is to be made prior to waste emplacement. After the waste is disposed and the repository is sealed, the performance calculation has no relevance as to how the repository will actually perform and when the maximum dose to individuals will occur. It could appear in as little as a few thousand years. The wide range of uncertainty in projected repository performance is dominated by the great uncertainty in the failure rate of the metal waste containers, not the geology and hydrology. Once the waste containers begin failing by corrosion, the contamination of the groundwater will be relatively rapid, far reaching, and irreversible. Radionuclides from waste disposed at Yucca Mountain will eventually reach the land surface both through groundwater pumping and through natural playas and springs where groundwater that has traveled beneath Yucca Mountain reaches the land surface today.
EPA has indicated it would like to have its final Yucca Mountain standard in place before the end of this calendar year. But this does not alleviate DOE’s uncertainty about the final rule, as it relates to the need for revisions in its Total System Performance Assessment. If the EPA standard were to become final in the form proposed, DOE would need to revisit the features, events, and processes that previously were excluded from consideration based on their possible effect on performance, or their likelihood of occurring during the 10,000 year compliance period. A credible climate representation also would need to be constructed for a 1 million year compliance period. And the great uncertainty is whether the final EPA rule will withstand legal challenge, should the numerous vastly unprecedented elements of the Proposed Rule be promulgated as the final standard.
Early in EPA’s rulemaking process, Nevada proposed a straightforward approach to meeting the Court’s ruling: simply extend the 10,000 year compliance period for the standard as written to the time of expected maximum dose (risk), whenever that occurs in DOE’s Total System Performance Assessment. From the Court’s perspective, this is what should have been done in the first place. Nevada’s proposal was notably absent from the list of alternative approaches considered by EPA for its rulemaking, and EPA exacerbated the uncertainty about a final Yucca Mountain standard by introducing a two-tier, bifurcated compliance standard and time period.
Improve the “nuclear culture” of the Yucca Mountain Project:
In order to be considered for a license from NRC, DOE must demonstrate that it will be a fit and responsible licensee. This requires that protection of human health and safety, and the environment must consistently be held as the highest priority in decision-making. This attribute can only be judged on the decisions and actions of the entire Yucca Mountain organization, as demonstrated in its pre-license application behavior. Given the high level of verbal importance applied to this matter by top DOE managers, along with the observations of the DOE Inspector General, and consistent 20-year history of GAO’s finding of persistent managerial deficiencies in the project, it is clear that the goal is, at least, elusive for the Yucca Mountain project organization.
Energy Secretary Bodman recently said that the nation’s high-level nuclear waste program is “broken.” This invites some important questions. When did it break, and when was the break detected? What broke - was there a weak link, or a system failure? Can the break be patched or repaired, or is it beyond repair? If it is beyond repair, is there a need to replace it – and, if so, with what?
Assuming the answers to the above questions led to the crafting of plans for resuscitation, rehabilitation, and remediation of the Yucca Mountain project, a problem remains for which no resolution can exist. The site does not have the necessary geologic and hydrologic attributes to support a demonstration of the capability for safe, permanent disposal of the nation’s high-level nuclear wastes – the goal of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
Three times in the past 15 years, Nevada Governors have advised Secretaries of Energy and finally the Congress that the site should be disqualified under DOE’s original Site Recommendation Guidelines, because of its geologic and hydrologic deficiencies. Despite DOE’s own analyses finally vindicating Nevada’s basis for this claim, the DOE’s response was to eliminate relevant disqualification factors through issuance of new guidelines just prior to its Yucca Mountain repository Site Recommendation to the President. The Yucca Mountain site model, upon which the Project Manager expressed such confidence to the Committee in 1987, was shown to be wrong, first in 1992, and again in 1996, both times through data collected at the site. The Yucca Mountain site so optimistically portrayed to Congress in 1987 is scientifically not the same site before you today. Yucca Mountain cannot meet any reasonable test for long-term safety.
You asked for testimony in this hearing on the status of the Yucca Mountain Repository Project within the Office of Civilian Radioactive Management at the Department of Energy. The request, in more practical terms is for information on how the Yucca Mountain project is doing in trying to make a convincing case for a safe repository at an unsafe site. The answer is, “Very poorly – because, even without all the problems described above, it is an impossible job.”
Thank you for the opportunity to present our views before this Committee.