DOE applies to build Yucca Mountain repository

After two decades of often controversial debate, the U.S. Department of Energy on Tuesday delivered its formal application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build the nation's first national repository for high-level radioactive waste at Nevada's Yucca Mountain.

The application is substantial -- more than 8,600 pages, not including more than 200 studies of supporting documents.

If the site is built, the radioactive material stored at 121 temporary sites in 39 states -- including Savannah River Site near Augusta -- would have a permanent resting place in Nevada.

"This application is one more step in the long process to bring Yucca to completion," DOE spokesman Jim Giusti said. "That's the key thing for SRS: It would be the ultimate disposition place for our vitrified high-level waste containers on site."

SRS has two glass waste storage buildings, where radioactive waste encased in glass is stored in steel cylinders that could be shipped to Yucca Mountain.

"From our standpoint, it further demonstrates the department's commitment to build a repository that we can remove waste to from SRS," Mr. Giusti said.

Yucca Mountain, a remote ridge on federal land in the Mojave Desert 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, has been under study for such a repository for two decades.

In 2002, the president and both chambers of Congress designated Yucca Mountain as the site for the nation's first permanent repository.

Tuesday's formal application will be reviewed over a three-year period.

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford applauded the long-awaited application.

"While it certainly needs to be remembered that this is only the first step in the process, I'd thank the Department of Energy for taking this step on something that's been a long time coming for South Carolina," Mr. Sanford said.

"Over the years, South Carolina has become an increasingly large temporary home to nuclear waste, and moving forward on this application is an important part of the federal government keeping promises...

"We believe Yucca Mountain to be an important part of our nation's future both when it comes to energy policy and security, and we're hopeful that this process will continue without delay."

Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119 or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.