USA Set to Select Deep Disposal Site for Spent Nuclear Fuel and Highly Radioactive Waste

The United States is moving closer to selecting a national facility for the underground disposal of highly radioactive materials. US Secretary of Energy, Spencer Abraham, formally recommended on 14 February 2002 Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the site for the repository to President George Bush.

At the request of the United States Department of Energy, an international team of experts, including David Hodgkinson the Managing Director of Quintessa, was convened by the International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA and the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The team conducted a peer review of the site's technical analysis during 2001, and submitted its report to DOE in January 2002.

The international peer review was conducted by ten experts over a four-month period last year. The team focused on the methodology of what is called the Total System Performance Assessment for the Site Recommendation (TSPA-SR). The experts concluded that, while presenting room for improvement, the TSPA-SR methodology is soundly based and has been implemented in a competent manner. Moreover, it was noted that the modelling incorporates many conservatisms.

Overall, the team considered that the implemented performance assessment approach provides "an adequate basis for supporting a statement on likely compliance within the regulatory period of 10,000 years and, accordingly, for the site recommendation decision." Regarding ongoing and future assessments, the team cited growing international consensus for its view that an understanding of the repository system and its performance and how it provides for safety should be emphasized more in future iterations, both during and beyond the regulatory period. Also, further work is required to increase confidence in the robustness of the TSPA. Based on the review, the team's report discusses a number of issues and provides 27 technical recommendations for better supporting the next programmatic decision points.

Copies of the report can be downloaded from the NEA web site.