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Copyright 2000 Federal News Service, Inc.  
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June 23, 2000, Friday


LENGTH: 1975 words



Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, I am Ivan Itkin, Director of the Department of Energy's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management. I appreciate the opportunity to provide an update on the status of our Program and to address issues of concern to the Committee.

Over the past few years, the Department has made significant progress toward a recommendation on a permanent solution for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. We are on schedule to make a decision in 2001 on whether or not to recommend the Yucca Mountain site as a repository. With sufficient appropriations, and if the site is suitable for recommendation and is designated by Congress, our current schedule is to submit the license application for repository construction to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2002, to begin construction in 2005 upon receipt of construction authorization, and, if the site is licensed, to begin emplacement of the waste in the repository in 2010.


The overriding goal of the Federal Government's high-level radioactive waste management policy is the establishment of a permanent geologic repository. Permanent geologic disposal addresses the management of spent nuclear fuel from commercial electric power gene.ration and from past Government defense activities, and it is essential to advancing our non-proliferation goals. A permanent disposal solution will also secure highly enriched spent nuclear fuel from foreign and domestic research reactors. It will also provide for the disposition of surplus plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons. A repository is necessary for the disposition of spent nuclear fuel from our nuclear-powered naval vessels. Finally, a permanent geologic repository is vital for cleaning up the legacy of our past nuclear weapons production at sites throughout the country.


The near-term scientific and engineering work that will be the foundation for a Secretarial decision on whether or not to recommend the Yucca Mountain site to the President is expected to be completed next year. A Presidential decision to develop a repository must be based on sound science. It must not only be accompanied by the documentation required by law, but also inform our policy makers, our regulatory oversight agencies, and the public regarding the scientific basis for the decision.

We are conducting a world-class scientific and technical program at Yucca Mountain. Through the Exploratory Studies Facility, we have had almost five years of direct examination of the geology underneath Yucca Mountain. From this study, our scientists and engineers, including exports from our nation's universities and our National Laboratories, have advanced our understanding of a potential repository system. This understanding led us to further focus our investigations, responding in part to the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board and other experts.

In response to requests from the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, we completed a 2000-meter cross-drift tunnel in December 1999. This year, we will complete niches and alcoves in the cross-drift tunnel that will assist us in developing a more complete three-dimensional model of that geologic formation. For nearly two years, we have gathered and integrated into our performance models data from the cross-drift tunnel inside the mountain to refine our predictions of repository performance.

Within the Exploratory Studies Facility, we continue to conduct the largest thermal test of a geologic formation in the world. This test, commonly known as the drift-scale test, assesses how long-term exposures to heat from waste packages might affect the hydrology and near-field environment within tunnels that may be constructed within Yucca Mountain. This work Will help determine the effects of heat on waste package performance and assist in the further refinement of repository design as we move forward toward licensing a repository, if the site is deemed suitable.

Since the release of the Viability Assessment in December 1998, the primary objective of the program's scientific and technical work has been reducing uncertainty in our predictions of repository performance. Our repository design has been refined to better manage thermal loads and reduce uncertainty. It is a flexible and robust design that can accommodate various operational modes, including adjusting the period of ventilation, varying fuel staging and loading into waste packages, and adjusting waste package spacing to manage thermal loads. This approach will permit future generations to evaluate actual repository performance, learn from the operations and monitoring, and close the facility when appropriate. A repository that is flexible to accommodate technical advances or future changes in priority is one way to address concerns regarding the need for additional information due to uncertainty.


Let me now turn to the Program's current activities, and the major events on the horizon. The culmination of the Program's site characterization efforts is to prepare the documentation required under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to support a decision on whether or not to submit a site recommendation to the President. The Program's focus for early Fiscal Year 2001 is to complete the Site Recommendation Consideration Report. This report will present background information and descriptions of the site characterization program and the site. It will also include descriptions of the repository design, the waste form, and waste packages; a discussion of data related to the safety of the site; and a description of the performance assessment of the repository. The Site Recommendation Consideration Report and its supporting documents will be made available to the State of Nevada, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the public to inform them and to facilitate public comment on a possible recommendation.

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act requires a final environmental impact statement to accompany a site recommendation to the President, if the Secretary decides to recommend the site for development as a repository. The Department issued the Draft 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 in July 1999. The draft environmental impact statement provides information on potential environmental impacts that could result from the construction, operation and monitoring, and eventual closure of a repository at Yucca Mountain.

We conducted a public comment period on the draft environmental impact statement from the end of July 1999 through February 28, 2000. Twenty- one hearings were held, eleven throughout the country and ten in the State of Nevada. More than 2700 individuals attended those hearings and more than 700 provided comments. We are presently analyzing the comments, preparing responses to be documented in the comment response section of the final environmental impact statement, and continuing development of the final environmental impact statement.

Our plan for Fiscal Year 2001 and beyond reflects the evolution of the project emphasis from scientific investigations to data synthesis, model validation, repository and waste package design, safety analysis, and documentation. The Program's near-term priorities upon completion of site characterization will be to enhance and refine repository design features and to develop the remaining information required to continue to a license application if a decision to recommend the site is made by the Secretary and approved by the President and Congress.


To support our future activities, the Department has requested $437.5 million for Fiscal Year 2001. The funding we have requested is needed to complete the activities that are necessary for an informed policy decision. In addition to compiling the-remaining information that is necessary for a possible site recommendation, the full Fiscal Year 2001 request is also necessary for critical work, related to the preparation of a license application, that was deferred in past years due to funding levels below those published in the Viability Assessment. The Program has been able to maintain its schedule for major milestones over the past years despite significant reductions from our request level, but only by deferring critical work that still must be completed.

Regaining momentum with the Fiscal Year 2001 request will enable the Program to be more responsive to emerging scientific issues, such as those raised during our extensive ongoing interactions with the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Now, when we are so close to significant milestones, we should not allow insufficient resources to be a cause for delay.


The Program's current management and operating contract was awarded in 1991 and will expire in February 2001. Consistent with the Department's contracting policy regarding management and operating contracts, and in conformance with direction provided in the enacted Energy and Water Development appropriations, we are recomputing our management and operating contract.

The Department received three proposals on June 8, 2000, which was the close of the bidding period. We have begun to evaluate submittals by the three teams, which are led by MK Nevada LLC, Bechtel SAIC Company LLC, and TRW Parsons Management and Operations LLC. We expect to award a follow-on performance-based contract late this summer or early in the fall. After awarding the contract, we expect an orderly transition. We have allocated funds for contractor transition in our Fiscal Year 2001 budget request.

Regulatory Activities

We have proposed 10 CFR 963, Yucca Mountain Site Suitability Guidelines, for use by the Department in evaluating site suitability. This proposal is intended to align the suitability criteria in the Department's evaluation process with the standards being promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency and the licensing criteria being promulgated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Specifically, the Environmental Protection Agency and Nuclear Regulatory Commission are each revising the regulatory framework for standards involving radiation dose limits at Yucca Mountain and for licensing this site, respectively.

We are hopeful that the Environmental Protection Agency will establish reasonable standards that are protective of public health and safety and the environment, and that these standards can be implemented by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in a rigorous licensing environment. It is our understanding that the Environmental Protection Agency will finalize the radiation protection standard for Yucca Mountain this summer. Soon afterwards, we expect the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to modify its licensing criteria to be consistent with the standard.


As I noted at the beginning of my testimony, we have made significant progress. Since the enactment of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act in 1982, our nation has made a substantial investment in permanent geologic disposal. Approximately four billion dollars and years of cutting-edge science and engineering have brought us to this point. When we set out to characterize the Yucca Mountain site through an ambitious scientific program, we knew we would be faced with challenges. I believe by the end of next year we will have met the most difficult of those challenges. There will likely continue to be additional scientific and institutional issues to be addressed during any licensing process. But, I believe the Program is well positioned to move forward.

Thank you. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.


LOAD-DATE: June 27, 2000

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