Affected Units of Local Government
Yucca Mountain Project
1998 Annual Report


The Nuclear Waste Policy Act as amended (NWPA), designated the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada as the only site to be considered for a geologic repository for disposal of spent fuel and high-level nuclear waste. The NWPA also provided for "affected units of local government" (AULGs) within the vicinity of Yucca Mountain to oversee and participate in the Yucca Mountain Project. By affording AULG participation rights, Congress sought to increase public confidence in the scientific integrity of the repository program, provide citizens the means to interact with the federal government, and demonstrate a commitment to external oversight.

Nine counties in Nevada and one in California have been designated as affected counties.1 These counties are eligible under the NWPA to receive financial assistance for a variety of purposes, including:

  • Monitoring DOE activities
  • Assessing impacts of site characterization and repository development
  • Making recommendations to the Secretary of Energy
  • Developing claims for impact mitigation and/or compensation assistance
  • Keeping county residents informed of project activities and issues

In addition, Nye County, as the situs county, is entitled to on-site representation in order to monitor DOE's day-to-day site characterization activities.

This annual report provides a combined summary of affected county activities to meet their responsibilities under the NWPA, with particular emphasis on accomplishments and cooperative efforts to share resources and responsibilities. The counties' programs are generally divided into eight elements:

  • Program management
  • Program monitoring, review and comment
  • Socioeconomic monitoring and impact assessment
  • Geotechnical analysis, independent scientific investigations, regulatory and licensing analysis, and on-site representation
  • Environmental and radiological impact monitoring
  • Transportation issue identification and resolution
  • Emergency management issue identification and resolution
  • Public information, involvement, and education

1.  The situs jurisdiction, Nye County, was specified by the NWPA. Churchill, Clark, Esmeralda, Eureka, Inyo, Lander, Lincoln, Mineral, and White Pine were subsequently designated by DOE.

Appendix A lists specific activities and accomplishments for each county under each program element. A listing of affected county contact persons is included in Appendix B.

    A.  The Need for Effective Local Government Oversight Programs

The Yucca Mountain Project has reached a pivotal junction. During the coming two years DOE will determine the viability of seeking a license to construct a repository at Yucca Mountain. DOE will also complete National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance documentation and prepare a construction license application to be submitted to NRC. These activities will involve requirements for document review, independent impact assessment and constituent involvement by affected counties.

What is just as important to the affected counties, is that DOE will make a determination of site viability on the basis of a less extensive site characterization program than was previously envisioned, in order to reduce costs and meet scheduling requirements. To be effective participants in the program, local governments must have the technical capability to fully engage DOE and others on the complex technical issues surrounding site characterization, site suitability, and licensing. The nation's commitment to meaningful oversight by affected local governments will be measured by the degree to which funding to the affected counties is provided at levels needed to conduct independent assessments and effectively monitor DOE OCRWM activities.

Beyond site characterization and licensing activities at the repository site, Congress continues to pursue legislation which would establish interim storage near Yucca Mountain and commence waste shipments by 2001. This gives new urgency to route selection, transportation impact assessment and emergency preparedness. Interim storage, including the possibility of storage in Nevada, could present new and unforeseen challenges to the affected counties. Taken together, these developments present significant new requirements for affected counties to effectively oversee and participate in DOE's expanded technical program.

    B.  Repository Program Characteristics Drive Local Government Oversight Program Requirements

The Yucca Mountain Project presents a unique set of challenges to affected local governments. The technical difficulties of determining site viability, site suitability and eventually licensing and constructing a repository are unprecedented. At the same time, much of the public is skeptical of the federal government. In this complex and rapidly changing climate, affected counties have a vital interest in 1) participating in site characterization and site viability/suitability evaluations, and 2) assessing for themselves the impacts of interim storage, transportation, site characterization and repository development. Additional features of the Yucca Mountain Project that influence the affected counties' oversight program requirements includes the following:

  • Yucca Mountain is the only candidate site for a civilian repository. The nation has no contingency plan if Yucca Mountain is found to be unsuitable. Several billion dollars have already been spent on the project, and billions more are anticipated. The best intentions notwithstanding, powerful "institutional momentum" threatens to advance the program without full consideration of regulatory safeguards designed to increase public confidence. Access to information has been the fundamental tool that has historically protected the general public and our democratic system from the threat of an excessive and arbitrary government. This protection was wisely provided for in the NWPA, as amended by according a strong role for affected local governments. As noted by the Secretary of Energy's Advisory Board Task Force on Public Trust and Confidence, an informed public, armed with independent technical analysis, is one of the few alternatives that have the potential for protecting the public.

  • If an interim storage facility and/or a repository is eventually constructed at Yucca Mountain and begins operations, the nation's most toxic waste will be transported by rail and highway through Nevada to the site. Residents and the natural environment would be at risk for potential contamination. Protection from radiologically related risks to the public's health and safety and the biosphere (acknowledged to be both real and perceived) is an essential function for affected local governments hosting the repository site or through which the waste would be transported.

  • The repository program is extremely complex technically and involves many different organizations. The counties must interact with the Yucca Mountain Site Characterization Project Office, a multi-billion dollar enterprise over many years, other federal agencies and oversight organizations, state government, other local governments and organizations, local groups and the general public. Effective participation in this immense program, as dictated by the scale of the risk to which the counties could ultimately be exposed requires resources the counties do not have, and substantial expertise that the counties must develop.

  • The duration of the Yucca Mountain Project's pre-closure activity phase has been projected to range from a minimum of 6-7 more years of site characterization, to 50 or more years (if the site is licensed). The project's technical uncertainty, and dynamic socioeconomic context, coupled with the fact that many potential impacts are not well understood, dictates the need by affected local governments to establish and operate comprehensive monitoring and impact assessment systems.

  • The Yucca Mountain Project generates a tremendous volume of information. Affected counties must review, organize, store and retrieve information and communications produced by the DOE, other federal agencies, affected local governments and others.

    C.  Cooperation and Coordination

To ensure that financial assistance funds are used effectively and efficiently, the affected units of local government have diligently cooperated to develop coordinated oversight and impact assessment programs. Coordination on the part of counties has minimized the potential for duplication of effort and made maximum use of available funds. In general, the counties cooperate and coordinate through the following activities: meetings of the State, Tribal, Local Government Coordinating Group; routine sharing of reports, data, and correspondence; cooperation on public information initiatives; cooperation on technical monitoring and analysis; and cooperation in systems development and applications. The following are examples of specific cooperative initiatives:

  • The State, Tribal, and Local Government Coordinating Group meets periodically to exchange information and work together on issues of mutual concern. Meetings of the group are held in each of the affected counties on a rotating basis. Subcommittees have also been formed to focus efforts on issues of special interest, such as engineered barriers, geohydrology, transportation and emergency response, and coordination of information systems.

  • Licensing Support Network (LSN) compatible websites are being developed to provide easy access for interested persons to documents developed by the affected counties and simplify communications among the counties.

  • Nye County is conducting major initiatives in the areas of geology and hydrology, and will share its data and findings with other affected counties. Similarly, Nye County is sharing its analysis and findings on licensing and regulatory matters. Clark County also maintains a technical oversight capability and shares the results of its initiatives.

  • The affected counties coordinate their emergency management and transportation planning programs.

  • Nye County has developed and is utilizing a computer model which allows the testing of alternative scenarios for repository development to facilitate socioeconomic impact assessment. The system is being made available for use by other counties.

  • Clark County is currently developing socioeconomic systems to determine potential impacts from Yucca Mountain activities. These systems are being developed in coordination with the incorporated cities and unincorporated areas of Clark County.

  • Draft comments to DOE and other agency documents are routinely shared by the counties.

  • Established economic/demographic models will be adapted by other affected counties for application in their respective programs, significantly reducing developmental costs.

  • Affected counties have shared with one another their approaches and experiences with geographic information systems.

  • Nye County and Inyo counties are cooperating on a research project to characterize the interbasin relationships in the Amargosa Valley hydrogeologic system. This system is immediately down gradient from Yucca Mountain.

    Clark County has shared monthly reports on additions to its document and information system with all affected counties.


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Last Updated 08/2003