Nuclear Waste:

Impediments to Completing the Yucca Mountain Repository Project

RCED-97-30: Published: Jan 17, 1997. Publicly Released: Jan 17, 1997.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO reviewed the Department of Energy's (DOE) Yucca Mountain Project, focusing on: (1) adjustments DOE made to the disposal program due to reduced appropriations; and (2) potential impediments to achieving DOE's objectives and schedule for the repository project.

GAO found that: (1) because DOE did not receive the amount of appropriations requested for fiscal year 1996, it revised the scope and objectives of the repository project with the goal of applying for a construction license in March 2002, about 5 months later than had been planned; (2) specifically, DOE: (a) curtailed most investigative activities at Yucca Mountain in favor of analyzing the information already collected to focus the remaining investigative activities on key uncertainties; (b) decided to revise its guidelines for determining if the Yucca Mountain site is suitable for a repository by deleting those criteria that require compliance with specific technical conditions, such as those concerning the travel time for groundwater; and (c) will issue, in September 1998, an assessment of the expected design, performance, and cost of a repository at Yucca Mountain. This report is intended to support decisions on continuing the repository project and authorizing a waste storage facility near Yucca Mountain that may be made before DOE has determined if the site is suitable for a repository; (3) several impediments must be resolved in DOE's favor if it is to achieve the project's revised objectives and schedule; (4) it is uncertain when the Environmental Protection Agency and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will issue the health standards and licensing regulations, respectively, that DOE needs to determine if Yucca Mountain is a suitable repository site; (5) the absence of applicable standards and regulations creates uncertainty about whether the scope of DOE's site investigation is adequate; and (6) limitations on information that DOE is collecting in key areas, such as hydrology and the effects of the heat generated by waste on the performance of the repository and NRC's preparations to review a license application, add more uncertainty to the repository project.

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