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Nuclear Waste Management: Key Attributes, Challenges, and Costs for the Yucca Mountain Repository and Two Potential Alternatives

GAO-10-48 Published: Nov 04, 2009. Publicly Released: Dec 02, 2009.
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High-level nuclear waste--one of the nation's most hazardous substances--is accumulating at 80 sites in 35 states. The United States has generated 70,000 metric tons of nuclear waste and is expected to generate 153,000 metric tons by 2055. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, as amended, requires the Department of Energy (DOE) to dispose of the waste in a geologic repository at Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada. However, the repository is more than a decade behind schedule, and the nuclear waste generally remains at the commercial nuclear reactor sites and DOE sites where it was generated. This report examines the key attributes, challenges, and costs of the Yucca Mountain repository and the two principal alternatives to a repository that nuclear waste management experts identified: storing the nuclear waste at two centralized locations and continuing to store the waste on site where it was generated. GAO developed models of total cost ranges for each alternative using component cost estimates provided by the nuclear waste management experts. However, GAO did not compare these alternatives because of significant differences in their inherent characteristics that could not be quantified.

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