NRC to study groundwater issues at controversial Yucca Mountain site

One of the most studied pieces of land in the world is about to get studied again, with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) planning to prepare a supplement to U.S. Department of Energy environmental reviews for the Yucca Mountain permanent nuclear waste repository in Nevada.

The Yucca Mountain project, designed to permanently store the radioactive waste from the nation's commercial nuclear plants, has been tied up by years on infighting between environmental groups, the federal government and about every politician in and around Nevada, according to GenerationHub.

The NRC said in a notice to be published in the March 12 Federal Register that the supplement would be to DOE's ‘‘Final Environmental Impact Statement for a Geologic Repository for the Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste at Yucca Mountain, Nye County, Nevada’," issued in February 2002, and its ‘‘Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for a Geologic Repository for the Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste at Yucca Mountain, Nye County, Nevada," issued in July 2008.

"The NRC staff determined in September 2008 that it is practicable to adopt, with further supplementation, the DOE’s environmental impact statements (EISs)," said the March 12 notice. "The NRC staff concluded that the EISs did not address adequately all of the repository-related impacts on groundwater or from surface discharges of groundwater."

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) of 1982, as amended, specifies that spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste will be disposed of in a deep geologic repository. Amendments to the NWPA in 1987 identified Yucca Mountain as the single candidate site for characterization as a potential geologic repository.

The NRC said that the Energy Dept. initially stated that it would prepare this supplement to look at groundwater issues, but later declined to do so. Instead, the DOE prepared a technical analysis, “Analysis of Postclosure Groundwater Impacts for a Geologic Repository for the Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste at Yucca Mountain, Nye County, Nevada." In 2014, the DOE updated this report. The NRC staff will consider these reports in preparing the supplement.

The supplement will provide additional information about the proposed repository’s impacts on groundwater and from surface discharges of groundwater. More specifically, it will describe the extent of the volcanic-alluvial aquifer, particularly those parts that could become contaminated, and how water (and potential contaminants) can leave the flow system.

The supplement will also provide an analysis of the cumulative amount of radiological and non-radiological contaminants that can be reasonably expected to enter the aquifer from the repository, and the amount that can be reasonably expected to remain over time. The document will provide estimates of contamination in the groundwater, given potential accumulation of radiological and non-radiological contaminants. The supplement also will provide a discussion of the impacts on soils and surface materials from the processes involved in surface discharges of contaminated groundwater.

The NRC staff intends to issue the draft supplement in the late summer of 2015, followed by a public comment period. The NRC staff plans to publish the final supplement 12 to 15 months after issuing this notice.

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