NRC seeks public comments on Yucca Mountain waste-site impact draft

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said recently that it seeks public comments by Oct. 20 on a draft supplement to a federal environmental-impact statement on the effects of a proposed permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, with upcoming meetings scheduled.

The NRC draft – “Supplement to the U.S. Department of Energy’s 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” – complements environmental impact statements (EISs) the U.S. Department of Energy prepared on the proposed repository. The DOE issued the final EIS in 2002, then supplemented it in June 2008, the NRC said.

Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, the DOE is responsible for analyzing and proposing mitigation measures for environmental impacts, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, and the NRC is to adopt DOE’s statement to the extent practicable, the NRC told Power News Wire.

The NRC recommended adoption of DOE’s statements in September 2008, but said two areas needed supplementation with further analysis: potential impacts on groundwater and from groundwater discharges. DOE deferred to the NRC to prepare the supplement.

The scope of the NRC draft supplement is limited to the potential environmental impacts from the proposed repository on groundwater and impacts associated with the discharge of any contaminated groundwater to the ground surface, the commission’s notice, which was officially published in the Aug. 21 Federal Register, said.

The NRC staff said the analysis in DOE’s EIS does not provide adequate discussion of the cumulative amounts of radiological and non-radiological contaminants that may enter the groundwater over time and how these contaminants would behave in the aquifer and surrounding environments, the notice said.

Therefore, the NRC said its draft supplement describes the affected environment with respect to the groundwater flow path for potential contaminant releases from the repository.

Specifically, the NRC supplement evaluates the potential radiological and non-radiological environmental impacts at several groundwater and surface-discharge locations over a one-million-year period following closure of the repository, including potential impacts on the aquifer environment, soils, ecology and public health, as well as the potential for disproportionate impacts on minority or low-income populations.

In addition, “the supplement assesses the potential for cumulative impacts that may be associated with other past, present, or reasonably foreseeable future actions,” the notice said.

The supplement has found that such impacts would be “small.” For example, the NRC staff’s analysis shows peak estimated radiological doses along the flow path lower than those estimated by DOE for the maximally exposed individual at a location 11 miles south of the repository site.

It also shows the impacts from non-radiological contaminants would be “small.” This means the environmental effects are not detectable or are so minor, they will not destabilize or noticeably alter any important attribute of affected resources. 

After considering the comments received, the staff will revise the supplement, as appropriate, before issuing a final supplement in early 2016.

NRC staff will hold a public conference call Aug. 26, 2-3 p.m. EST, and provide information on how to submit comments on the draft supplement.

In addition to providing written comments, the public will have opportunities to comment during several open meetings:
• Sept. 3 at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, 3-5 p.m. EDT
• Sept. 15, Embassy Suited Convention Center, Las Vegas, 7-9 p.m. PDT
• Sept. 17, Amargosa Community Center, Amargosa Valley, 7-9 p.m. PDT

A public meeting via conference call is scheduled for Oct. 15, 2-4 p.m. EDT.

The NRC’s Aug. 21 Federal Register notice is available online at: www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-August 21, 2015/html/2015-20638.htm.

For more information, contact Christine Pineda in the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards at 301-415-6789 or by emailing YMEIS_Supplement@nrc.gov.

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