Copyright 2000 Federal News Service, Inc.
Federal News Service
June 23, 2000, Friday
SECTION: PREPARED TESTIMONY
LENGTH: 1975 words
PREPARED TESTIMONY OF IVAN LTKIN DIRECTOR OFFICE OF CIVILIAN RADIOACTIVE WASTE
MANAGEMENT U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE SUBCOMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND POWER
SUBJECT - HIGH-LEVEL WASTE MANAGEMENT
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.
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.
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
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
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.
FISCAL YEAR 2001 BUDGET
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.
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
Thank you. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may
LOAD-DATE: June 27, 2000