Morning Briefing - March 21, 2018
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March 21, 2018

NRC Could Need 6 Months to Get Up to Speed on Yucca Licensing, Chair Says

By ExchangeMonitor

It might take up to six months after the approval of the 2019 federal budget for U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada to get back on track, a pair of U.S. House subcommittees were told Tuesday.

That is because the regulator’s Yucca team was reassigned after the Obama administration in 2010 halted the NRC adjudication of the Energy Department license application for the underground repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. Some have since retired, according to NRC Chairman Kristine Svinicki.

Consequently, the restart would require staffers to study the records to bring themselves up to date on the project. “Some experts could become conversant in as little as six months,” Svinicki said.

That, though, would depend upon approval of funding from Congress. Svinicki, along with NRC Commissioners Stephen Burns and Jeff Baran, testified about the agency’s fiscal 2019 budget request before the House Energy and Commerce energy and environment subcommittees.

Environment Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-Ill.) asked the commissioners whether their $47.7 million request to resume Yucca Mountain licensing activities in fiscal 2019 would be enough to get the project back on track. Svinicki said it would be.

The NRC is requesting $970.7 million of fiscal 2019, an almost $60 million increase from $910.9 million in the enacted budget for fiscal 2017. The agency’s funding has been effectively frozen at that level in the current 2018 fiscal year by a series of short-term budgets that have kept the government open since October. The biggest chunk of the requested funding hike for 2019 is $47.7 million for Yucca Mountain licensing activities.

The 2019 request would put 124 full-time workers on the job supporting the adjudication. The 2018 budget request currently in limbo sought $30 million for Yucca Mountain and 71 full-time equivalent positions.

Svinicki and Burns told the subcommittees the NRC currently has little more than $500,000 left in its available Nuclear Waste Fund balance for work on Yucca Mountain — with a lot of that work to do with restarting the licensing activities.