In June, 2008, the Department of Energy submitted a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) requesting authorization to construct a national repository for the disposal
of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain.
The NRC is the licensing and enforcement agency that will make the
final decision on whether the DOE is allowed to proceed with construction
and subsequently licensed to operate the repository.
NRC approval consists of two steps:
The license application consists of a letter describing its purpose,
accompanied by attachments that contain general information and a
safety analysis report.
- A construction authorization
- A license
The NRC will perform an acceptance review to determine
if the application is suitable for performing a detailed technical
- The general information portion of the application will provide
an overview of the repository’s engineering design concept
and will describe the natural features of the site.
- The safety analysis report (the main technical document in the
licensing process) will demonstrate how the repository can be
constructed, operated, and closed in a manner that protects public
and worker health and safety and preserves the quality of the
After the license application is docketed, the NRC will conduct extensive
technical reviews and legal hearings during which it will consider
the scientific and design information on the repository. As required
by law, the hearings will be open to the public.
A hearing panel appointed by the NRC, referred to as the Atomic Safety
and Licensing Board, will conduct the licensing proceeding. After
completion of the proceeding, the board will forward its initial decision
to the commissioners for their review.
The NRC will grant a construction authorization only if it concludes
from its investigations that the repository would meet its reasonable
expectation that the safety and health of workers and the public would
After construction authorization is granted, DOE will begin initial
construction. The license application and subsequent revisions to
the application, made in response to NRC requests for additional information,
would be updated to reflect any new or more detailed information and
submitted to the NRC in support of receiving a license.
- A license application is
submitted to the NRC.
- After the NRC completes its acceptance review of the material
contained in the general information and SAR and determines the
submittal to be complete, it will announce in the Federal
Register an opportunity for interested parties to participate
in hearings. The hearings will be presided over by an Atomic Safety
and Licensing Board. Multiple boards may be appointed. Boards
typically have three members — an administrative law judge
who is a lawyer to run the proceeding and two technical experts.
Boards may have more than three members.
- Board members are drawn from a panel of pre-approved, qualified
members. Entities and individuals interested in supporting or
opposing the repository will be required to file petitions to
be admitted as parties to the proceeding, as well as file legally-
or technically-relevant contentions. The board may permit limited
appearances by those wishing to make brief statements but not
- At the same time the board is performing its legal functions,
the NRC staff will conduct a technical review of the general information
and SAR. As a result of that review, the NRC staff will generate
questions on the license application, referred to as requests
for additional information, which DOE will answer in the form
of revisions to the general information and SAR.
- The Board will examine the proposed contentions and rule on
each. After the NRC staff completes its technical review and the
board completes processing proposed contentions, the two efforts
will converge in the hearing process. DOE, NRC, and (in some instances)
contractor staff will have to take the stand to address contentions
admitted by the board.
- After all contentions and responses have been heard by the board,
the board will issue its initial decision regarding construction.
If the decision is not overturned by the commissioners or the
appellate court, construction can begin.