USA : Country Update : April 2018

The following is a summary of key recent events, activity and announcements.  Full media reports and other links to these events and news announcements can be found on our international media page.  Scroll through the international media page for the date on which the event or announcement occurred to read the relevant article.

Yucca Mountain funding

Despite support within the House of Representatives, the Senate refused to approve the federal government’s request to fund renewed assessment of the proposed site for a geological disposal facility at Yucca Mountain.  Although further Congressional attempts to push the Yucca project forward are expected, there seems little expectation that the funding will be available this year, much to the annoyance of those living in the area (22 & 23 March).  Nevada’s Tourism Board vows to fight on against Yucca Mountain (10 April).

Congressional debate about radioactive waste and geological disposal

Although the funding of the Yucca Mountain project may have been deferred for a year, this only seems to have placed the issue of what the US is going to do about its radioactive waste higher up the political agenda.  The issue has been raised in a number of separate Congressional committees and hearings, for example:

  • the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was questioned whether it still has skills to manage a renewed assessment of the Yucca Mountain site, and while the NRC acknowledged loss of expertise through retirements since the programme was shut down in 2011, it remains confident it could progress work with current staff (21 March)
  • For first time in over 10 years, US Senate Armed Services Committee grills a US Energy Secretary over the management of defence-related radioactive waste.  Committee Chairman John McCain said the Energy Department’s (DoE) defence programmes, including the cleanup of nuclear waste, have gone without sufficient oversight.  He claimed the the DoE had run up a long list of cost overruns, schedule delays, and violations of safety and security, and said the Armed Services Committee will begin the oversight necessary to help the DoE “correct course (23 March)
  • Chairman of the US Senate Appropriations subcommittee for energy and water development, Sen. Lamar Alexander said he would be introducing a bill soon that would create a federal agency to find additional permanent and temporary repositories besides Yucca Mountain, saying he still sees Yucca Mountain as an integral part of solving the nuclear waste problem, “but even if Yucca Mountain were open today, we would still need to look for another permanent repository” (11 April).
  • During a Senate Banking Committee hearing, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told Senator Dean Heller of Nevada that he is open to interim storage: “I’m not trying to beat up on Nevada. I’m trying to figure out a way to put this stuff someplace safe” (11 April).

Commercial proposals for temporary storage facilities

Two separate proposals, by Holtec in New Mexico, and Orena in West Texas, are widely discussed and analysed (19 March – 7 April).  Both pitch to Congressional concerns about the cost to taxpayers of storing waste at interim surface facilities across the USA, by indicating that their proposals would substantially cut costs to taxpayers.  Although the Holtec proposal has been viewed positively because of local political, business and community support, an activist campaign has started in New Mexico to oppose Holtec’s plans.

The two proposals have also been discussed in Vermont, as potential places to which the waste currently stored at the decommissioned Yankee nuclear facility might be sent.  The same concern about where to store waste is echoed in California and what to do with waste at the San Onofre plant (27 March).

NRC renew support contract for evaluating geological disposal

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has renewed a contract with Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) to operate the Centre for Nuclear Waste Regulatory Analyses (CNWRA). The five-yearUS$52 million contract is to provide the NRC with technical assistance and research support for activities related to the storage, transportation, possible reprocessing and ultimate geological disposal of used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste (5 April).

Nevada test first responders on radioactive waste transport

Local Nevada TV news report on preparations for transport of radioactive waste from California which will travel across Nevada for processing at a facility in Idaho before being sent back across Nevada for final disposal in the WIPP facility in New Mexico (9 April).

Idaho may house waste prior to yucca

US Energy Department considering keeping open a nuclear waste treatment facility in Idaho. The facility packs waste in preparation for disposal at the US’s WIPP geological repository. It is due for closure next year, with the loss of 700 skilled jobs. The facility also houses specialised equipment purchased by the taxpayer. Local environmentalists concerned about the proposal, while cautious State officials want to explore economic and environmental impacts before making a decision (21 March & 13 April).

Pennsylvania & New Jersey lawmakers set higher safety standards than NRC

Feature article on how state legislators are stepping in to raise safety standards for surface storage of radioactive waste above the levels required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (26 March).

University of Iowa invests in radwaste students

Article emphasising that the longer politicians defer decisions on radioactive waste disposal the greater the need to train a new generation of scientists with the skills which will be required once we do start disposing of the waste. Young students see the work as part of a “global effort” to resolve the long-term issue of safe nuclear waste disposal (21 March).


US Department of Energy has commissioned a national group of scientists to study the viability of permanently storing plutonium at the WIPP repository in Carlsbad New Mexico. Local politician Cathrynn Brown said the Carlsbad community was supportive of the repository and was confident moving and storing plutonium could be done safely (17 March).

WIPP reinstates Speaker’s Bureau.  WIPP employees are being offered to help answer questions from the local community and to inform the public on operations at the site (9 April).