Director's Corner
by
Bob Loux

With the Department of Energy's decision to not provide oversight funding this year to the Agency for Nuclear Projects and affected local governments in Nevada and California, most County oversight offices have closed, or greatly reduced their activities, and this Agency has scaled back its operations. Despite the funding reduction, we are continuing to oversee the federal high-level nuclear waste program and the Yucca Mountain Project, but with fewer staff and contractor resources.

Much of our independent research in geohydrology, socioeconomics, and transportation has been curtailed, but we are continuing to monitor and oversee all aspects of the federal program, including full- time on-site monitoring of activities at Yucca Mountain. An important part of our program has been keeping the public informed of developments in the high-level nuclear waste program, and this activity will continue. The Nevada Nuclear Waste News will continue to be published as there are new developments in the program. We also respond to information requests, and Agency reports, publications, videos, and other materials will continue to be available. Beginning this summer, we hope to have a revised Internet home page to serve as an alternative information source.

The ever changing plans and schedules of the federal program require that the Agency maintains flexibility in its oversight planning. Our staff and technical contractors interact regularly with personnel at the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Advisory Committee on Nuclear Waste, and the presidentially appointed Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board. And we keep our board, the Nevada Commission on Nuclear Projects, chaired by former Attorney General Brian McKay, informed of our activities and developments in the federal program.

Much of our oversight work takes the form of reviews of DOE technical plans and reports, and policy analysis of DOE's continually changing programmatic direction. We also review and analyze the continuous stream of proposed legislation that, over the years, has become more and more aggressive in its attempts to make the Yucca Mountain project work.

In the coming two years, we expect to be reviewing and commenting on proposals for new siting, safety, and licensing rules directed specifically at Yucca Mountain, as mandated by Congress. The existing federal rules which these will replace were thought by some influential members of Congress and the nuclear power industry to be too exacting and demanding once the complexity and risks of the Yucca Mountain site and the enormous expense of the project began unfolding.

We also will be commenting on DOE's recently proposed policy regarding technical and financial assistance to states affected by transportation of nuclear waste to a repository. At the same time, we will continue to maintain a modest transportation research and analysis program. This effort will be supported by the nationally recognized groundbreaking risk assessment work that our socioeconomic team of experts has carried out over the past years.

At the end of 1998, DOE's current plans call for a "viability assessment" for the Yucca Mountain site to be issued. According to DOE, the viability assessment will consist of a waste isolation performance assessment, based on available but incomplete information from site characterization; a schedule and cost to complete site characterization; prepare an environmental impact statement, if the site is later found suitable by the Secretary of Energy; and a total life-cycle cost for developing, operating, and closing a repository at Yucca Mountain (the current estimate is approximately $34 billion). This assessment will be delivered to Congress, and DOE expects that Congress will make a determination about whether it is feasible and prudent to continue the project which already has far exceeded the original schedule and cost estimates.

In preparation for our review of the viability assessment, we have begun a review of DOE's current waste isolation performance assessment for Yucca Mountain, and its massive underlying technical data- base, assumptions, and methodologies.

Obviously, our work is cut out for us, and DOE has built into its plans a check-point for Congress to decide whether it is worth continuing to pursue the Yucca Mountain project that has already been on the books for eighteen years.

History tells us that the only certainty about this federal project is that there will be more surprises coming in the future.

June Newsletter Table of Contents


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