NRC Determines Yucca Mountain's Groundwater Impact 'Small'

This determination means the environmental effects of the spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste disposed there would not be detectable or be so minor they will not destabilize or noticeably alter any important attribute of affected resources.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has released a draft environmental impact statement supplement assessing the effects on groundwater of a permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain. The agency will begin taking public comments on the draft Aug. 21 when a notice is published in the Federal Register. The draft can be found here on NRC's website.

NRC staff's analysis shows the peak estimated radiological doses along the flow path are lower than those estimated by DOE for the maximally exposed individual at a location 11 miles south of Yucca Mountain and 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.

The draft supplements environmental impact statements that the U.S. Department of Energy prepared on the proposed Nevada repository. DOE issued the final EIS in 2002 and supplemented it in June 2008. Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, 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. NRC's staff recommended adoption of DOE’s statements in September 2008 but said two areas needed further analysis: potential impacts on groundwater and from groundwater discharges. DOE deferred to NRC to prepare the supplement it has now released.

The public can submit written comments, and there will be public meetings in September at NRC's headquarters in Rockville, Md., Las Vegas and Nye County, Nev., and via a conference call in early October. Information on the meetings will be provided soon at www.nrc.gov and in the Federal Register.

The supplement finds that the impacts would be "small." NRC's announcement said the document "describes the affected environment with respect to the groundwater flow path from the repository. It models that flow path and movement of radiological and non-radiological contaminants. It evaluates the impacts of contaminants at locations where groundwater is currently being withdrawn, and locations of natural surface discharge along the groundwater flow path, considering the effects from possible changes in climate and water withdrawal, and cumulative impacts from other past, present and reasonably foreseeable future activities in the area."

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

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