Timeline — The Nuclear Waste Policy Dilemma

1954  The Atomic Energy Act is passed by Congress directing the federal government to promote the peaceful use of atomic energy, with the understanding that disposal of the highly radioactive waste produced would be the responsibility of the federal government.

1956  The National Academy of Sciences recommends deep geologic disposal of the long-lived, highly radioactive wastes from nuclear reactors, suggesting that buried salt deposits and other rock types be investigated for permanent repositories.

1960  In the early 1960s, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) announces that a salt mine at Lyons, Kansas, will be developed as a high-level radioactive waste repository, only to reverse its decision after state geologists discover the site is riddled with abandoned oil and gas exploration boreholes.

1975  The Energy Research and Development Administration (formerly AEC) begins to search for a possible permanent repository for the nation's nuclear waste. A multiple site survey emphasizing buried salt deposits and federal nuclear facility sites is conducted in 36 states, including Nevada, but is reduced in scope due to decreased funding and political opposition from states.

1980  Deep geologic disposal is selected by the Department of Energy (formerly ERDA) in an Environmental Impact Statement as the preferred alternative for permanent disposal of commercial high-level nuclear waste.

1982  Congress passes Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (NWPA) which establishes a repository site screening process; requires two repositories to assure regional equity; sets a schedule leading to federal waste acceptance for disposal beginning in 1998; starts the Nuclear Waste Fund to pay for the waste program with fees collected on the generation of electricity from nuclear power plants; and requires that the repositories be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

1983  The DOE names nine previously screened potential repository sites in six states: seven in salt deposits and two on western federal nuclear facility sites (including the Nevada Test Site) in volcanic rock deposits. Critics claim the sites were recycled from the 1975 search, and that the NWPA requires DOE to conduct a new screening process rather than proceed with sites considered prior to the passage of the NWPA. DOE slows down its process to involve the states and federal agencies in a more consultative process.

1986  The DOE issues final Environmental Assessments and nominates five candidate repository sites from the original nine, and then selects three western sites -- in Nevada, Texas, and Washington -- for detailed investigation, from which one is to be selected for repository licensing.

1986  The DOE indefinitely postpones the second repository siting program, violating the regional equity intent of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, after much objection from states in the northern mid-west and east where potentially acceptable repository sites in granite are prohibited.

1987  Congress amends the NWPA, designating Yucca Mountain, Nevada as the sole repository site to be characterized. Two other sites are removed from consideration, the screening process for a second repository site is ended, and studies of repository sites in granite are prohibited.

1988  DOE holds public hearings on their site characterization plan for Yucca Mountain.

1991  Surface studies begin at the Yucca Mountain site

1993  DOE begins grading work on first phase of the Exploratory Studies Facility at the proposed repository site. DOE also formulates a new Program Approach that sets waste acceptance to begin in 2010, relies on DOE's development and distribution of Multi-Purpose Canisters to begin interim waste storage in 1998, sets a site characterization schedule which defers some work to a repository performance confirmation period lasting up to 100 years after waste emplacement begins.

1994  Portal entrance to the Exploratory Studies Facility is constructed and tunneling into Yucca Mountain begins. Critics charge that the portal ramps and entrance are constructed for use as a repository, not a study area.

1995  Tunnel boring machine makes progress into Yucca Mountain but encounters loose ground at various points. Five miles of tunnels are planned for the study area by 1996. Bills are pending in Congress that re-prioritize the waste program to emphasize interim waste storage and transportation, with site characterization as a lower priority.

1997  Thermal testing begins at Yucca Mountain. It is scheduled to take eight years.

1998  DOE fails to meet its January deadline for waste acceptance. Lawsuits are filed by states and the nuclear industry. Legislation that would put an interim storage facility on the Nevada Test Site dies in Congress. The Yucca Mountain Viability Assessment is released in December with DOE declaring the site "viable" but admitting that much work still needs to be done before the site can be officially recommended in 2001.

1999  Bills emphasizing interim spent fuel storage at the Nevada Test Site are again introduced in the US Congress with President Clinton vowing to veto any such legislation. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Yucca Mountain is released for public comment in August.

2000  Due to concerns that the EPA's role in setting radiation standards would be too limited, President Clinton again vetoes nuclear waste legislation passed by Congress. The site characterization project continues at Yucca Mountain as DOE prepares the Final Environmental Impact Statement and nears the point where suitability must ultimately be decided.

2001  EPA announces proposed radiation standards for Yucca Mountain. The State of Nevada files suit against the EPA, arguing the standards are inadequate. DOE is forced to investigate allegations of collusion between itself, its contractors, and the nuclear power industry to promote the repository. The release of the final Environmental Impact Statement is delayed until late 2001.

2002  Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham recommends Yucca Mountain as a suitable site to President George W. Bush. Bush approves the recommendation. Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn exercises the State's right to veto the Yucca Mountain project. The project moves to Congress, where a simple majority in both houses is needed to overturn Guinn's veto. Yucca Mountain is debated and passed first in the House of Representatives and then more narrowly in the Senate. President Bush signs the joint resolution into law, officially designating Yucca Mountain as the nation's nuclear waste repository site. DOE begins work on its application for a license to build and run the repository. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) identifies 293 technical issues DOE must solve before submitting the license application. The State of Nevada files major lawsuits against DOE, NRC, Bush, and Abraham.

2003  DOE continues work on its license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The project, however, is over-budget and behind schedule. Nevada's lawsuits against the Yucca Mountain repository are set for oral arguments in front of the D.C. Court of Appeals in January 2004. DOE is scheduled to release a nuclear waste transportation plan sometime in the fall.

2004  The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. throws out the EPA's 10,000 year radiation standard for Yucca Mountain, but dismisses Nevada's other lawsuits. The Department of Energy selects the southern Nevada Caliente corridor to build a rail line for shipping waste to Yucca Mountain (Carlin is named the alternative). Nevada files suit over the Caliente Rail Line. An NRC Board rules that DOE's Yucca Mountain public internet database (Licensing Support Network) is incomplete. It is uncertain whether DOE will submit its license application to the NRC in December as planned. An NRC Comissioner and other officials say a 2010 opening is unlikely.

2005  DOE announces plans to ship nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain in "dedicated trains," meaning that railroad cars carrying nuclear waste will not share trains with any other cargo. DOE releases emails indicating that documentation of quality assurance data may have been falsified by U.S. Geological Survey staff; however, criminal charges are not filed. The EPA releases a revised two-part draft radiation standard for public comment. DOE shifts the design of the proposed repository to a "clean" facility, unveiling the Transportation, Aging, and Disposal (TAD) canister system.

2006  DOE sets a new target date of 2017 for the opening a the Yucca Mountain repository. Edward F. "Ward" Sproat is confirmed as director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management. In a waste management policy shift, the Bush administration launches the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, or GNEP, an initiative to research nuclear waste reprocessing. DOE reopens its study of the so-called Mina rail route to Yucca Mountain.

2007   The Walker River Paiute Tribe withdraws its permission to ship nuclear waste through its reservation, forcing DOE to drop plans for further study of the Mina rail route. DOE releases the design requirements for its TAD canisters. The department releases two draft EIS documents, one on the repository itself and another on the rail corrider. DOE abandons 2017 opening date for Yucca Mountain, estimating that the facility will not be operational until 2020 at the earliest. DOE's Yucca Mountain public internet database, the Licensing Support Network, is ruled complete.

2008   DOE submits its license application to the NRC for review. Nevada officials file a petition urging the NRC to reject the application based on the application's lack of critical information

DOE's Future Plans for Yucca Mountain

Because of recent uncertainties in the Yucca Repository Program, such as issuance of USEPA's radiation standard, coupled with budget reductions in 2007, and changes in program direction (i.e., planned use of the Transportation, Aging, and Disposal (TAD) canister system), the future schedule is purely speculative.

2020   First shipment of nuclear waste arrives in Nevada

Recent Press News

February 19, 2008 — Lack of money spells uncertainty for Yucca nuke dump, DOE says WASHINGTON -- Long-range prospects for a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain are clouded because there is no fix in sight for budget shortfalls plaguing the Nevada program, a Department of Energy official said Monday.Ward Sproat, director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, said DOE is poised to meet a key licensing milestone by the end of the summer after budget cuts forced the latest in a series of retoolings for the repository, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

But Sproat said the department has abandoned its "best achievable" goal of having a repository opened by 2017. Now, he said, DOE is reluctant to set a new target.

"A firm date cannot be set until the funding issue is resolved," Sproat said in a speech to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, the organization of state public service officials — By STEVE TETREAULT STEPHENS WASHINGTON BUREAU

November 30, 2006 — Yucca director downplays project timeline He says nuclear waste repository unlikely to open before 2020 — WASHINGTON -- While the Department of Energy has set a target month of March 2017 for Yucca Mountain to begin receiving nuclear waste, the project director said Wednesday it "most probably" won't be opened until at least three years later By STEVE TETREAULT STEPHENS WASHINGTON BUREAU

July 19, 2006 — New target set for receiving waste at YuccaDOE estimates proposed repository won't be ready for shipments until 2017 — WASHINGTON -- The Energy Department has set a new schedule for the long-delayed Yucca Mountain repository, projecting a March 2017 date to begin accepting high level nuclear waste at the Nevada site. — By STEVE TETREAULT STEPHENS WASHINGTON BUREAU

More Information
Statement of Edward Sproat - OCRWM Director — before Congressional Committee on Energy & Commerce

Press Release - DOE Anounces Yucca Mountain Application Shcedule



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