Nuclear Waste: Disposal Challenges and Lessons Learned from Yucca Mountain

GAO-11-731T Published: Jun 01, 2011. Publicly Released: Jun 01, 2011.
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The United States has generated over 75,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel and high-level nuclear waste--extremely hazardous substances--at 80 sites in 35 states and is expected to more than double that amount by 2055. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (NWPA) required the Department of Energy (DOE) to investigate a geologic repository for nuclear waste. In 1987, Congress amended NWPA to direct DOE to focus on a repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. In 2008, DOE submitted a license application for the repository but in March 2010 moved to withdraw it. However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or the courts--as a result of federal lawsuits--might compel DOE to resume the licensing process. GAO has reported on options for interim storage of this waste and the effects a Yucca Mountain termination could have on both commercial waste and DOE-managed waste. This testimony is based on that prior work and discusses (1) the status of the Yucca Mountain repository and national policy for nuclear waste disposal, (2) options for storing nuclear waste and their benefits and challenges, and (3) principal lessons that can be learned from past nuclear waste management efforts.

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