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Federal Document Clearing House Congressional Testimony

September 28, 2000, Thursday


LENGTH: 3520 words




September 28, 2000 Statement of Ivan Itkin, Director Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management U.S. Department of Energy Hearing on Status of the Yucca Mountain Project Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources INTRODUCTION Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, 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. The Department has made significant progress toward 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. If the site is successfully licensed, our current schedule calls for initiating construction in 2005 upon receipt of construction authorization, and beginning acceptance 6f waste in the repository by 2010. BACKGROUND 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 generation 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. PROGRAM STATUS The Department intends to fulfill its obligation to accept spent fuel. The issue of waste acceptance is clearly one that is high on our agenda. Last year, we proposed to take title to utilities' spent fuel at reactor sites as a practical near-term solution to address our contractual obligation to utilities. The Department is in litigation over the delay in meeting our contractual obligation to begin accepting spent fuel from the nuclear utility companies by January 31, 1998. We are actively working with utilities in an effort to resolve this issue and the ongoing litigation, and we reached a settlement with PECO Energy Company this July. The Department is negotiating with a number of utilities. We have agreed to keep their identities and the nature of the discussions confidential. Let me address the progress we have made toward the long-term solution for managing our nation's spent nuclear fuel and high- level waste. We are nearing completion of the 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. 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 experts from our nation's universities and our National Laboratories, have advanced our understanding of a potential repository system and enabled us to further focus our investigations. Let me highlight some progress to date. 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. 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. PLANNED ACTIVITIES 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. 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. The Site Recommendation Report will present background information and descriptions of the site characterization program and the site. It will 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. It will also contain an assessment of the suitability of the site. In support of a possible site recommendation next year, we will issue the Site Recommendation Consideration Report by the end of this year. This Site Recommendation Consideration Report will provide the information to support statutory public hearings early next year. 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 Programs 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 The Department has requested $437.5 million for Fiscal Year 2001 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 needed for critical work related to the preparation of a license application. This work was deferred in past years due to funding levels below those described as necessary when we 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. This past June the House Appropriations Bill provided a $413 million mark for fiscal year 2001 funding. The Senate Appropriations Bill provided a significantly lower appropriations level, $351 million., Let me reemphasize the impact of these lower appropriation levels as stated in the Statement of Administration Policy on. September 15, 2000. At the lower funding level of $351 million, we will face significant delays in preparing a site recommendation. A decision on recommending the site could slip for up to a year, and submittal of a license application could slip several years. These delays would impact the 2010 date for the commencement of waste acceptance at a repository. CONTRACT RECOMPETITION The Program's current management and operating contract was awarded in 1991 and will expire in February 200 1. 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 recompeting our management and operating contract. The Department received three proposals on June 8, 2000, which was the close of the bidding period. We are evaluating 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 this fall, and we expect an orderly transition. 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. CONCLUSION Since the enactment of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act in 1982, our nation has made a substantial investment in permanent geologic disposal and we have made significant progress. 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: October 4, 2000, Wednesday

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