DOE Lacks Overall Strategy, Says Technical Board

December 1993

A board charged with overseeing U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) activities at Yucca Mountain released a report in mid-October saying its members were concerned that DOE is making important technical decisions about the design and excavation of the exploratory facility at the site "without sufficient analysis."

The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board was created by Congress through the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1987 to evaluate the technical and scientific validity of DOE's plans and activities to manage the disposal of the nation's radioactive waste.

The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board says that despite an improved record over the preceding four years, past delays in initiating excavation and current attempts to comply with overly optimistic schedules are forcing quick decisions that could extend program schedules and increase costs.

DOE has deemed underground excavation to be a central element in its efforts to evaluate the site's suitability for the proposed nuclear waste repository. The current site characterization program involves tunneling throughout the site to better understand the complex geology there, which includes a number of faults.

The report criticizes the DOE for lacking an overall strategy for exploration and testing, and recommends three actions which board member say can be implemented at Yucca Mountain without slowing momentum of the ongoing site characterization:

  • Develop a comprehensive strategy that integrates exploration and testing priorities with the design and excavation approach for the exploratory facility.

  • Initiate underground thermal testing as soon as possible

  • Take maximum advantage of existing experience in the underground construction industry and establish a geoengineering board with member expert in the engineering, construction, and management of large underground projects. The geoengineering board should work with the management regularly to review detailed decisions and help guide the design and excavation of the underground facility.

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