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Report gives Yucca positive review, stops short of full endorsement

WASHINGTON — Analysts at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Thursday completed a safety review that gives Yucca Mountain generally positive marks, but stops short of recommending it be granted a license to operate as a nuclear waste site.

In the final pieces of a five-volume safety report, the agency staff said it has “reasonable assurance” the proposed repository could meet safety requirements to handle thousands of tons of highly radioactive spent fuel, insert them into rust-resistant canisters and inject them into the mountain 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The report comes on the heels of an NRC volume in October that concluded a combination of Yucca Mountain’s natural geology plus man-made tunnel drip shields “with reasonable expectation” could satisfy safety rules to keep the nuclear waste entombed and away from groundwater for periods up to 1 million years.

It was not an unqualified endorsement. After reviewing an 8,600-page Department of Energy application for the site, the NRC staff said it would propose conditions on any license if one was issued.

And a report issued last month pointed out the government does not have full control of the repository area and lacks the necessary water rights to operate the site. For that reason, the NRC said Thursday, the agency staff “is not recommending issuance of a construction authorization at this time.”

The release of the final two volumes of the “safety evaluation report” triggered fresh calls for Congress to revive the program that was mothballed by President Barack Obama in 2010.

“Today’s report confirms that it is possible to safely dispose of nuclear waste in the repository at Yucca Mountain, and that the U.S. Department of Energy is able to safely operate the facility while the waste is being deposited,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

“To continue to oppose Yucca Mountain because of radiation concerns is to ignore science,” Alexander said.

At the same time, Nevada lawmakers vowed to hold fast in the state’s fight against high-level nuclear waste.

“The NRC staff does not recommend authorizing construction of Yucca Mountain,” said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. “This project will never see the light of day and everyone should accept that and move on.”

“The federal government needs Nevada’s water, land and resources before the project could ever move forward,” said Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. “As Nevada’s United States senator, I will fight that from ever happening.”

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