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Yucca Mountain Nuclear Repository, Nye County, Nevada

STATUS:  Suspended indefinitely

TYPE: Nuclear

OPPOSITION:  Obama Administration; Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid; environmental groups

PROSPECTS:  Unlikely

BACKGROUND:  The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) had originally planned to begin accepting spent fuel and high-level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain nuclear repository, a deep geological formation 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada, on January 31, 1998.  To date, the facility is not operational. Yucca Mountain has become a political football over the years, as environmental groups uniformly oppose the project, and each successive Congress and President has either determined to move forward with the project or shut it down. 

In 2002, the Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed a resolution formally approving Yucca Mountain.  DOE proposed March 31, 2017 as the date it planned to open Yucca Mountain and begin accepting waste, if licensed.  However, in 2006, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, a longtime opponent Yucca Mountain, became Majority Leader of the 110th Senate, and pledged to kill the project.  In subsequent years, Congress reduced funding for the project, limiting its ability to move forward on a timely basis.  In the meantime, utilities that had been paying into the project as a condition of their current licenses filed suits against DOE to recover those fees, since the repository has not been operational.  On June 3, 2008, DOE managed to submit a license application to the NRC for the Yucca Mountain repository.  However, the Obama administration has pledged to shut down Yucca for good, and the President’s 2011 budget request seeks to end funding altogether for the project and cancel the application.  That budget has not yet been passed.

In June 2010, the NRC’s Atomic Safety Licensing Board issued a decision that only Congress can stop federal regulators from reviewing DOE’s license application.  DOE has appealed that decision to the full NRC, and the results of NRC’s vote are pending.  In the meantime, NRC staff has reportedly ended all work on the application.  The states of Washington and South Carolina have filed lawsuits in federal court challenging DOE’s authority to withdraw the license.

SOURCES:  NRC (http://www.nrc.gov/waste/hlw-disposal/licensing.html;
Las Vegas Review-Journal (http://www.lvrj.com/hottopics/yucca_mountain.html;
GPO (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-107publ200/pdf/PLAW-107publ200.pdf). 

Last Updated:  November 11, 2010