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Overview:

The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB) is an independent federal agency that conducts scientific and technical assessments of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) activities to dispose of the nation’s commercial spent nuclear fuel and defense high-level radioactive waste.

 

Since the advent of the nuclear age following World War II, government officials have struggled with the daunting problem of what to do with the voluminous amount of nuclear waste produced by nuclear power plants, many of which today are shutdown, and the federal government’s nuclear weapons complex. Because the waste is highly lethal for extremely long periods of time (hundreds of thousands of years in some cases), DOE officials have sought to bury the waste in a remote part of Nevada known as Yucca Mountain.

 

This 25-year, $15-billion effort was plagued by delays, lawsuits, and multiple controversies, and was defunded in 2009 without any nuclear waste being stored at Yucca Mountain. Although the NWTRB has no regulatory authority over DOE’s work on Yucca Mountain, the board found itself in the thick of the fight between energy officials, nuclear power companies, environmentalists, and Nevada politicians.

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History:

By the 1980s, the U.S. reached a critical juncture with nuclear waste produced by civilian and military nuclear programs that had accumulated over four decades since the end of World War II. Spent fuel rods, decommissioned reactors, and various other radioactive refuse were being stored at more than 100 sites spread out across two-thirds of the country.

 

This massive amount of waste represented a serious threat to human health and the habitats. Currently, U.S. reactors generate about 40,000 cubic meters of low-level radioactive waste per year. By one account, in all total, the U.S. has 52,000 tons of radioactive spent fuel from commercial and defense nuclear reactors, 91 million gallons of high-level waste left over from plutonium processing, scores of tons of plutonium, more than half a million tons of depleted uranium, millions of cubic feet of contaminated tools, metal scraps, clothing, oils, solvents, and other waste, plus some 265 million tons of tailings from milling uranium ore. If all of the tailings were loaded into railroad hopper cars and the 91 million gallons of waste put into tank cars, the train would reach around the entire equator, with some cars to spare.

 

In the 1970s, government officials and scientists examined numerous solutions for disposing of the waste, some as far-fetched as loading it into rockets and shooting it into space. Realizing a more earthly solution was in order, Congress adopted the Nuclear Waste Policy Act in 1982, which charged the DOE with the task of locating a suitable location where the waste could be buried for ten thousand years.

 

The DOE selected nine locations for consideration as potential sites, with the intention of ultimately selecting two repository locations, one in the east and one in the west. The nine sites were studied and preliminary studies were reported in 1985. Based on these reports, the list was reduced to three sites, all in the west: Hanford, Washington; Deaf Smith County, Texas; and Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

 

Even though the majority of nuclear waste was produced in the eastern half of the country, by 1987 Congress had given up on the idea of permanently burying the waste east of the Mississippi. That year, Congress amended the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and directed DOE officials to study only Yucca Mountain, which had been on the government’s radar since 1978. The same legislation created the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, which assessed the DOE’s studies of Yucca Mountain beginning in the 1990s.

 

On July 23, 2002, President Bush signed House Joint Resolution 87, allowing the DOE to take the next step in establishing Yucca Mountain as the repository to store the United States’ nuclear waste. This was done in spite of the NWTRB’s lukewarm assessment of the DOE’s readiness to proceed with Yucca Mountain. However, after years of political bickering, numerous lawsuits, and protests by environmental groups, President Obama halted funding of project in 2009. While Republicans and Democrats exchange accusations over the legality of the project shutdown, the NRC has produced a three-volume report on the history and status of the Yucca Mountain project, the final installment of which was released in September 2011. The NRC declared itself evenly divided on shutting down the project and dropped the problem at the doorstep of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. While the matter stews, the DOE appointed a commission to make recommendations on alternatives to Yucca Mountain in early 2012.

US map of radioactive waste storage sites

Nuclear Waste: Amounts and On-Site Storage (Nuclear Energy Institute)

Half Life (by Michael E. Long, National Geographic)

Inyo County Yucca Mountain Repository Assessment Office

NRC releases report on stalled Nevada nuke dump (Associated Press)

Timeline of Events Regarding Yucca Mountain (Lander County, Nevada Online Repository Oversight Program)

 

From the NWTRB Web Site:

Calendar

Contact Information

Fact Sheets

Links to Nuclear Related Websites

Meeting Transcripts

Press ReleasesStrategic Plans

more
What it Does:

The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB) is an independent federal agency that is part of the executive branch. It is charged with evaluating the technical and scientific work by the DOE to establish Yucca Mountain as the sole repository for nuclear waste. Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act amendments of 1987, which established the board, the NWTRB has access to draft documents prepared by the DOE and its contractors so that it can conduct its review in “real time,” not after the fact. Twice a year, the board reports its conclusions and recommendations to Congress and to the Secretary of Energy and points out concerns from outside parties. It has no regulatory or implementing authority.

 

The board consists of 11 members who are nominated by the National Academy of Sciences solely on the basis of expertise, which ranges from geochemistry to materials science to hydrology to transportation. Members are then appointed by the President and serve a four-year term. They can be reappointed and all members serve part-time. The full board meets three or four times per year, usually in Nevada; board panels hold meetings periodically. Board members are supported by a full-time staff consisting of 14 professional and support personnel.

 

According to the legislation that enacted the board, the NWTRB will stay in existence no later than one year after the first high-level radioactive waste or spent fuel is disposed of in the repository.

NWTRB Reports from 1990 to 2011

NWTRB Correspondence from 1998 to 2011

NWTRB Testimony to Congress

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Where Does the Money Go:

According to the NWTRB FY 2013 Budget Request (pdf), the agency proposes that its $3.4 million funding be distributed as follows:

 

Total Personnel Compensation                                                         $1,768,000

Civilian Personnel Benefits                                                                    $426,000

Travel and Transportation                                                                     $342,000

Contractual Services (court-reporting service, meeting-room

rentals, equipment rental maintenance, Web site and

            systems management)                                                               $308,000

Rental Payments to GSA                                                                      $206,000

Government Services (administrative support, security clearances)     $100,000

Consultants                                                                                             $96,000

Supplies and Materials                                                                            $40,000

Printing and Reproduction                                                                       $38,000

Communication, Utilities, Miscellaneous                                                $36,000

Total Obligations                                                                                $3,400,000

 

Bechtel was the main contractor for the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB) and had been running the day-to-day operations at Yucca Mountain and bored the massive tunnels that were to house the radioactive canisters if the site had become operational. In July 2011, Bechtel came under scrutiny for a claim by the DOE that it used flawed equipment, resulting in serious risks, in its installation at the 560-square-mile site of the country’s largest nuclear waste cleanup operation in Hanford, Washington. A slew of energy corporations and utility companies also monitored the board because of the nuclear power plants (both operational and decommissioned ones) that these stakeholders own. These stakeholders include Ohio Edison, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Duke Power, Exelon Corporation, Constellation Generation, Pacific Gas & Electric, Georgia Power Company, and Southern California Edison.

 

Because no centralized repository has been established, these companies have had to store, at considerable cost, the spent nuclear fuel and other radioactive wastes at plant sites around the country. Under the 1987 amendments to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act adopted by Congress, the federal government was supposed to begin taking this waste off the hands of power companies by 1998. Having failed to do so, the DOE has been subject to litigation by some energy companies seeking reimbursement for the expense of continuing to store their nuclear waste.

 

The state of Nevada, where the NWTRB regularly holds its meetings, is another important stakeholder. Nevada officials never embraced the idea of using Yucca Mountain to store nuclear waste, and the state repeatedly filed lawsuits against the federal government, including a DOE statement that it failed to meet the National Environmental Policy Act’s requirements. In addition to litigation, Nevada’s then-Governor Kenny Guinn (R) tried to stop the DOE from moving forward with licensing Yucca Mountain for operation by filing a notice of disapproval, as allowed under federal law. Congress overrode Guinn’s notice.

 

Other Nevada stakeholders include the city of Las Vegas, which sits only 100 miles southeast of Yucca Mountain, and local public interest groups such as Nevadans for Nuclear Safety and Benefits. Environmental and anti-nuclear organizations also kept watch on the board and the project. Examples of these stakeholders include the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, a worldwide clearinghouse for environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists, and the Sierra Club.

U.S. Nuclear Power Plant Operators, Owners and Holding Companies (Nuclear Energy Institute)

A Refusal To Take Nuclear Waste (by Kenny Guinn, New York Times)

more
Controversies:

NWTRB Under Scrutiny

Given that the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB) was so closely involved in the Yucca Mountain squabble, there was no shortage of controversy connected to its work. Although most of the rancor stemmed from the issue, not the board, the NWTRB hadn’t been immune to creating its own trouble, thanks to the Bush administration.

 

In June 2002, President George W. Bush nominated Michael Corradini, a nuclear engineer from the University of Wisconsin who was an outspoken supporter of the nuclear power industry, to serve on the board as its chairman. This appointment provoked immediate outcry from opponents of Yucca Mountain, including all five members of Nevada’s congressional delegation. Corradini publicly endorsed Yucca Mountain, which the other members of the board had not done. Furthermore, Corradini continued to receive funding from the DOE for research on nuclear power even though he promised to stop. After the other NWTRB members wrote a letter asking him to resign, Corradini stepped down in January 2004.

 

The board also came under criticism in September 2007 during debate over an earthquake fault near Yucca Mountain, which prompted design changes by the DOE for the site. Even though the board claims to conduct “real time” reviews of DOE documents, it was revealed that three months went by before the board was informed about the changes by energy officials.

 

The board also hadn’t been afraid at times to stick its neck out and question aspects of the Yucca Mountain project. In 2002, while the Bush administration pushed for Congress to officially approve the site and move the project into the NRC licensing phase, the NWTRB said there were considerable gaps in what the DOE knew about the geology of the site. In 2004, the board questioned the DOE’s plan to store radioactive canisters close together inside the mountain, producing a “hot storage” effect, claiming “the high temperatures of the current design and operation will result in perforation of the waste packages, with possible release of radionuclides,” according to the board.

Chair of Key Nuclear Review Board Prompts Concerns About Objectivity on Yucca (by Lisa Gue, Public Citizen)

High-level Nuclear Waste Legislation Update (by American Geological Institute)

Agency Is Seen as Unfazed on Atom Waste (by Matthew L. Wald, New York Times)

Science Will Catch Up At Waste Site, U.S. Says (by Matthew L. Wald, New York Times)

Nuclear Waste Panel Warns of Hot Storage at Yucca Mountain (Environment News Service)

GAO Report on Yucca Mountain (pdf)

Yucca review board in dark: Project design changes revealed only recently (by Keith Rogers, Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Yucca Mountain research leaves doubt: Reworked prediction on water criticized (by Steve Tetreault, Review Journal)

Yucca Mountain Project : have federal employees falsified documents? : hearing before the Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce and Agency Organization of the Committee on Government Reform, House of Representatives

Q+A-Yucca Mountain nuclear waste controversy (Reuters)

U.S. Panel Shifts Focus to Reusing Nuclear Fuel (by Matthew L. Wald, New York

            Times)

Managing Spent Nuclear Fuel: Strategy Alternatives and Policy Implications (by Tom

            LaTourrette, Thomas Light, Debra Knopman, James T. Bartis; Rand) (pdf)

Current News (Esmeralda County Repository Oversight Program)

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Debate:

What To Do with America’s Nuclear Waste?

The United States has been piling up waste from nuclear power since the 1950s, and still it does not have a long-term solution for disposing of the radioactive leftovers. Successive presidential administrations thought the government would be able to store the waste in Yucca Mountain in Nevada, but President Barack Obama fought to scuttle the plan since concerns were raised about the safety of this solution. As of August 2012, the matter of Yucca Mountain is in the hands of the courts. So, in the meantime, what to do?

 

Dry Casks

Some scientists and engineers propose storing spent rods in dry casks, which some power plants are already doing. This method involves lowering a steel box into a spent fuel pool, placing the fuel inside the box, draining it of liquid and then pumping it full of an inert gas to prevent rust. The box is then placed in a concrete-and-steel sleeve on a concrete pad surrounded by barbed wire, closed-circuit cameras and security guards. This solution isn’t considered sufficient for long-term disposal.

 

Restart Yucca Mountain

Politicians outside Nevada, as well as many industry leaders, argue the nation has no choice but to find a physical location where nuclear fuel can be stored for hundreds of years. Many of these advocates add that the U.S. already has one site mostly ready to go—Yucca Mountain—and the government should focus on shoring it up so it can be put to use. The problem with this answer comes down to two words: Harry Reid. The Senate majority leader absolutely refuses to allow the nation to dump its radioactive garbage in his state. Yucca Mountain may become politically viable only after Reid is no longer in power in the Senate.

 

Reprocessing

The U.S. should take a cue from France, where leaders are seriously weighing nuclear reprocessing as a serious, if only partial answer, supporters say. Reprocessing involves the reuse of spent fuel, producing more fuel for reactors to use, while reducing the amount of leftovers in need of burial somewhere. Two problems exist for reprocessing: (1) It still leaves some fuel behind for disposal, and (2) Some of the leftover is plutonium, one of the most toxic substances in the world that also has applications in military weapons.

What Should We Do with America’s Nuclear Waste? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

What To Do With Nuclear Waste (by Lynn Edward Weaver, Ledger.com)

A New Urgency to the Problem of Storing Nuclear Waste (by Kate Galbraith, New York Times)

more

Comments

Tony Orrigo 4 years ago
In this article there is no data to support or not support reprocessing. There is no data that would suggest if reprocessing is viable; France, Japan and Germany must have supporting data. For example; if we were to reprocess 10 million gallons of plutonium, how much of it could be reused as nuclear fuel; what is the percent of this reused fuel.....How much of spent fuel reduction is there after reprocessing. Can the reprocessed fuel be reprocessed again?

Leave a comment

Founded: 1987
Annual Budget: $3.4 million (FY 2013 Request)
Employees: 14 (+ 11 part-time board members) (FY 2013 Estimate)
Official Website: http://www.nwtrb.gov/
Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board
Bahr, Jean
Chair

Dr. Jean Marie Bahr was appointed to the U. S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB) on September 25, 2012, by President Barack Obama, who also chose her to serve as chair of the Board on January 5, 2017. NWTRB is an independent federal agency that conducts scientific and technical assessments of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) efforts to dispose of the nation’s commercial spent nuclear fuel and defense high-level radioactive waste.

 

Born circa 1954 to Rudolph R. Bahr, an electrical engineer, and Jane W. Bahr, Jean M. Bahr grew up in California. Her interest in environmental issues was piqued in high school when she went to a fair at Stanford University for the first Earth Day in 1970. She earned a B.A. in Geology and Geophysics at Yale University in 1976, and an M.S. and a Ph.D. in applied earth sciences (hydrogeology) at Stanford University in 1985 and 1987 respectively.

 

After Yale, Bahr worked as a geologist at Wahler Associates in Palo Alto, California, from 1976 to 1980, where a two-year stint on a project in Mali convinced her to get her doctorate. As a Stanford grad student, Bahr worked as a research assistant and teaching assistant from 1980 to 1985, and also worked part-time as a hydrogeologist for Geologic Testing Consultants Ltd., in Ottawa, Canada, from 1982 to 1983, and as a hydrologist for the Water Resources Division of the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California, from 1984 to 1986. 

 

Bahr has been a professor in the Department of Geoscience (formerly Geology & Geophysics) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 1987, where she is also affiliated with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. Her research focuses on physical, geochemical, and biogeochemical controls on the movement of underground water. She served as chair of the Nelson Institute’s Water Resources Management Graduate Program from 1995 to 1999, and of the Geoscience Department from 2005 to 2008, and faculty co-director of the Women in Science and Engineering Residential Learning Community from 2003 to 2005.

 

Bahr has served on numerous advisory committees through the National Research Council of the National Academies. She was a member of the Board on Radioactive Waste Management from 1992 to 1997. She chaired the Committee on Restoration of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem, and from 2004 to 2006 she was a member of the Committee on Research Priorities in Earth Science and Public Health. Bahr has also served on proposal review panels for the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the international Ocean Drilling Program. She served terms on the editorial boards of the journals Water Resources Research, Ground Water, and Hydrogeology.

 

Bahr was named a fellow of the Geological Society of America (GSA) in 1996, and was elected president of GSA for 2009-2010.

 

Among the studies to which Dr. Bahr has contributed are “A reflection on the first 50 years of Water Resources Research” and “Using Groundwater Models to Evaluate Strategies for Drinking-Water Protection in Rural Subdivisions.”

-Matt Bewig

 

To Learn More:

Official Biography

Interview with Jean Bahr: Education in Hydrogeology (EnvironmentalPrograms.net)

University of Wisconsin-Madison Personal Home Page of Dr. Jean Bahr

more
Ewing, Rodney
Previous Chairman

 

On September 25, 2012, President Barack Obama made Dr. Rodney C. Ewing chairman of the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, a panel on which Ewing has sat since July 2011. Obama reaffirmed Ewing’s position on June 13, 2014. The Review Board conducts scientific and technical assessments of the Department of Energy’s activities to dispose of the nation’s commercial spent nuclear fuel and defense high-level radioactive waste.

 

Ewing is from Irving, Texas, outside Dallas. He graduated from Texas Christian University in nearby Fort Worth in 1968 with a B.S. in geology. He then served in the Army for two years, teaching English to children in Vietnam for part of his tour.

 

Upon his discharge, Ewing went to Stanford on a National Science Foundation grant, earning an M.S. in 1972 and a Ph.D. in 1974. His graduate work focused on metamict minerals, which are damaged by uranium and thorium atoms. The study of those minerals led to work on the disposal of nuclear waste.

 

Ewing’s first professorship came at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. He continued work on metamicts and used that research to study how nuclear materials affect minerals to find effective containers in which to store nuclear waste, which must be isolated for thousands of years.

 

After 23 years in New Mexico, Ewing was lured to the University of Michigan in 1997. He continued his work with nuclear energy and materials, holding appointments in the departments of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences from 1997 to 2013, Geological Sciences from 1997 to 2013 and Materials Science and Engineering from 2008 to 2013. From 2011 to 2012, Ewing was a visiting professor at Stanford in its Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC).

 

He returned to Stanford on a full-time basis in 2013 as its Stanton Professor of Nuclear Security Studies, continuing his work on nuclear issues.

 

Along the way, Ewing has published more than 650 scientific papers and received a patent for the development of a highly durable material for the immobilization of excess weapons plutonium. He was also a founding editor of Elements magazine.

-Steve Straehley

 

To Learn More:

Official Biography

Earth Scientist And Nuclear Waste Expert Rod Ewing Joins Stanford (by Beth Duff-Brown, Stanford University Center for International Security and Cooperation)

Power Mandate (by Nancy Allison, TCU Magazine)

more
Bookmark and Share
Overview:

The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB) is an independent federal agency that conducts scientific and technical assessments of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) activities to dispose of the nation’s commercial spent nuclear fuel and defense high-level radioactive waste.

 

Since the advent of the nuclear age following World War II, government officials have struggled with the daunting problem of what to do with the voluminous amount of nuclear waste produced by nuclear power plants, many of which today are shutdown, and the federal government’s nuclear weapons complex. Because the waste is highly lethal for extremely long periods of time (hundreds of thousands of years in some cases), DOE officials have sought to bury the waste in a remote part of Nevada known as Yucca Mountain.

 

This 25-year, $15-billion effort was plagued by delays, lawsuits, and multiple controversies, and was defunded in 2009 without any nuclear waste being stored at Yucca Mountain. Although the NWTRB has no regulatory authority over DOE’s work on Yucca Mountain, the board found itself in the thick of the fight between energy officials, nuclear power companies, environmentalists, and Nevada politicians.

more
History:

By the 1980s, the U.S. reached a critical juncture with nuclear waste produced by civilian and military nuclear programs that had accumulated over four decades since the end of World War II. Spent fuel rods, decommissioned reactors, and various other radioactive refuse were being stored at more than 100 sites spread out across two-thirds of the country.

 

This massive amount of waste represented a serious threat to human health and the habitats. Currently, U.S. reactors generate about 40,000 cubic meters of low-level radioactive waste per year. By one account, in all total, the U.S. has 52,000 tons of radioactive spent fuel from commercial and defense nuclear reactors, 91 million gallons of high-level waste left over from plutonium processing, scores of tons of plutonium, more than half a million tons of depleted uranium, millions of cubic feet of contaminated tools, metal scraps, clothing, oils, solvents, and other waste, plus some 265 million tons of tailings from milling uranium ore. If all of the tailings were loaded into railroad hopper cars and the 91 million gallons of waste put into tank cars, the train would reach around the entire equator, with some cars to spare.

 

In the 1970s, government officials and scientists examined numerous solutions for disposing of the waste, some as far-fetched as loading it into rockets and shooting it into space. Realizing a more earthly solution was in order, Congress adopted the Nuclear Waste Policy Act in 1982, which charged the DOE with the task of locating a suitable location where the waste could be buried for ten thousand years.

 

The DOE selected nine locations for consideration as potential sites, with the intention of ultimately selecting two repository locations, one in the east and one in the west. The nine sites were studied and preliminary studies were reported in 1985. Based on these reports, the list was reduced to three sites, all in the west: Hanford, Washington; Deaf Smith County, Texas; and Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

 

Even though the majority of nuclear waste was produced in the eastern half of the country, by 1987 Congress had given up on the idea of permanently burying the waste east of the Mississippi. That year, Congress amended the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and directed DOE officials to study only Yucca Mountain, which had been on the government’s radar since 1978. The same legislation created the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, which assessed the DOE’s studies of Yucca Mountain beginning in the 1990s.

 

On July 23, 2002, President Bush signed House Joint Resolution 87, allowing the DOE to take the next step in establishing Yucca Mountain as the repository to store the United States’ nuclear waste. This was done in spite of the NWTRB’s lukewarm assessment of the DOE’s readiness to proceed with Yucca Mountain. However, after years of political bickering, numerous lawsuits, and protests by environmental groups, President Obama halted funding of project in 2009. While Republicans and Democrats exchange accusations over the legality of the project shutdown, the NRC has produced a three-volume report on the history and status of the Yucca Mountain project, the final installment of which was released in September 2011. The NRC declared itself evenly divided on shutting down the project and dropped the problem at the doorstep of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. While the matter stews, the DOE appointed a commission to make recommendations on alternatives to Yucca Mountain in early 2012.

US map of radioactive waste storage sites

Nuclear Waste: Amounts and On-Site Storage (Nuclear Energy Institute)

Half Life (by Michael E. Long, National Geographic)

Inyo County Yucca Mountain Repository Assessment Office

NRC releases report on stalled Nevada nuke dump (Associated Press)

Timeline of Events Regarding Yucca Mountain (Lander County, Nevada Online Repository Oversight Program)

 

From the NWTRB Web Site:

Calendar

Contact Information

Fact Sheets

Links to Nuclear Related Websites

Meeting Transcripts

Press ReleasesStrategic Plans

more
What it Does:

The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB) is an independent federal agency that is part of the executive branch. It is charged with evaluating the technical and scientific work by the DOE to establish Yucca Mountain as the sole repository for nuclear waste. Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act amendments of 1987, which established the board, the NWTRB has access to draft documents prepared by the DOE and its contractors so that it can conduct its review in “real time,” not after the fact. Twice a year, the board reports its conclusions and recommendations to Congress and to the Secretary of Energy and points out concerns from outside parties. It has no regulatory or implementing authority.

 

The board consists of 11 members who are nominated by the National Academy of Sciences solely on the basis of expertise, which ranges from geochemistry to materials science to hydrology to transportation. Members are then appointed by the President and serve a four-year term. They can be reappointed and all members serve part-time. The full board meets three or four times per year, usually in Nevada; board panels hold meetings periodically. Board members are supported by a full-time staff consisting of 14 professional and support personnel.

 

According to the legislation that enacted the board, the NWTRB will stay in existence no later than one year after the first high-level radioactive waste or spent fuel is disposed of in the repository.

NWTRB Reports from 1990 to 2011

NWTRB Correspondence from 1998 to 2011

NWTRB Testimony to Congress

more
Where Does the Money Go:

According to the NWTRB FY 2013 Budget Request (pdf), the agency proposes that its $3.4 million funding be distributed as follows:

 

Total Personnel Compensation                                                         $1,768,000

Civilian Personnel Benefits                                                                    $426,000

Travel and Transportation                                                                     $342,000

Contractual Services (court-reporting service, meeting-room

rentals, equipment rental maintenance, Web site and

            systems management)                                                               $308,000

Rental Payments to GSA                                                                      $206,000

Government Services (administrative support, security clearances)     $100,000

Consultants                                                                                             $96,000

Supplies and Materials                                                                            $40,000

Printing and Reproduction                                                                       $38,000

Communication, Utilities, Miscellaneous                                                $36,000

Total Obligations                                                                                $3,400,000

 

Bechtel was the main contractor for the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB) and had been running the day-to-day operations at Yucca Mountain and bored the massive tunnels that were to house the radioactive canisters if the site had become operational. In July 2011, Bechtel came under scrutiny for a claim by the DOE that it used flawed equipment, resulting in serious risks, in its installation at the 560-square-mile site of the country’s largest nuclear waste cleanup operation in Hanford, Washington. A slew of energy corporations and utility companies also monitored the board because of the nuclear power plants (both operational and decommissioned ones) that these stakeholders own. These stakeholders include Ohio Edison, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Duke Power, Exelon Corporation, Constellation Generation, Pacific Gas & Electric, Georgia Power Company, and Southern California Edison.

 

Because no centralized repository has been established, these companies have had to store, at considerable cost, the spent nuclear fuel and other radioactive wastes at plant sites around the country. Under the 1987 amendments to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act adopted by Congress, the federal government was supposed to begin taking this waste off the hands of power companies by 1998. Having failed to do so, the DOE has been subject to litigation by some energy companies seeking reimbursement for the expense of continuing to store their nuclear waste.

 

The state of Nevada, where the NWTRB regularly holds its meetings, is another important stakeholder. Nevada officials never embraced the idea of using Yucca Mountain to store nuclear waste, and the state repeatedly filed lawsuits against the federal government, including a DOE statement that it failed to meet the National Environmental Policy Act’s requirements. In addition to litigation, Nevada’s then-Governor Kenny Guinn (R) tried to stop the DOE from moving forward with licensing Yucca Mountain for operation by filing a notice of disapproval, as allowed under federal law. Congress overrode Guinn’s notice.

 

Other Nevada stakeholders include the city of Las Vegas, which sits only 100 miles southeast of Yucca Mountain, and local public interest groups such as Nevadans for Nuclear Safety and Benefits. Environmental and anti-nuclear organizations also kept watch on the board and the project. Examples of these stakeholders include the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, a worldwide clearinghouse for environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists, and the Sierra Club.

U.S. Nuclear Power Plant Operators, Owners and Holding Companies (Nuclear Energy Institute)

A Refusal To Take Nuclear Waste (by Kenny Guinn, New York Times)

more
Controversies:

NWTRB Under Scrutiny

Given that the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB) was so closely involved in the Yucca Mountain squabble, there was no shortage of controversy connected to its work. Although most of the rancor stemmed from the issue, not the board, the NWTRB hadn’t been immune to creating its own trouble, thanks to the Bush administration.

 

In June 2002, President George W. Bush nominated Michael Corradini, a nuclear engineer from the University of Wisconsin who was an outspoken supporter of the nuclear power industry, to serve on the board as its chairman. This appointment provoked immediate outcry from opponents of Yucca Mountain, including all five members of Nevada’s congressional delegation. Corradini publicly endorsed Yucca Mountain, which the other members of the board had not done. Furthermore, Corradini continued to receive funding from the DOE for research on nuclear power even though he promised to stop. After the other NWTRB members wrote a letter asking him to resign, Corradini stepped down in January 2004.

 

The board also came under criticism in September 2007 during debate over an earthquake fault near Yucca Mountain, which prompted design changes by the DOE for the site. Even though the board claims to conduct “real time” reviews of DOE documents, it was revealed that three months went by before the board was informed about the changes by energy officials.

 

The board also hadn’t been afraid at times to stick its neck out and question aspects of the Yucca Mountain project. In 2002, while the Bush administration pushed for Congress to officially approve the site and move the project into the NRC licensing phase, the NWTRB said there were considerable gaps in what the DOE knew about the geology of the site. In 2004, the board questioned the DOE’s plan to store radioactive canisters close together inside the mountain, producing a “hot storage” effect, claiming “the high temperatures of the current design and operation will result in perforation of the waste packages, with possible release of radionuclides,” according to the board.

Chair of Key Nuclear Review Board Prompts Concerns About Objectivity on Yucca (by Lisa Gue, Public Citizen)

High-level Nuclear Waste Legislation Update (by American Geological Institute)

Agency Is Seen as Unfazed on Atom Waste (by Matthew L. Wald, New York Times)

Science Will Catch Up At Waste Site, U.S. Says (by Matthew L. Wald, New York Times)

Nuclear Waste Panel Warns of Hot Storage at Yucca Mountain (Environment News Service)

GAO Report on Yucca Mountain (pdf)

Yucca review board in dark: Project design changes revealed only recently (by Keith Rogers, Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Yucca Mountain research leaves doubt: Reworked prediction on water criticized (by Steve Tetreault, Review Journal)

Yucca Mountain Project : have federal employees falsified documents? : hearing before the Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce and Agency Organization of the Committee on Government Reform, House of Representatives

Q+A-Yucca Mountain nuclear waste controversy (Reuters)

U.S. Panel Shifts Focus to Reusing Nuclear Fuel (by Matthew L. Wald, New York

            Times)

Managing Spent Nuclear Fuel: Strategy Alternatives and Policy Implications (by Tom

            LaTourrette, Thomas Light, Debra Knopman, James T. Bartis; Rand) (pdf)

Current News (Esmeralda County Repository Oversight Program)

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Debate:

What To Do with America’s Nuclear Waste?

The United States has been piling up waste from nuclear power since the 1950s, and still it does not have a long-term solution for disposing of the radioactive leftovers. Successive presidential administrations thought the government would be able to store the waste in Yucca Mountain in Nevada, but President Barack Obama fought to scuttle the plan since concerns were raised about the safety of this solution. As of August 2012, the matter of Yucca Mountain is in the hands of the courts. So, in the meantime, what to do?

 

Dry Casks

Some scientists and engineers propose storing spent rods in dry casks, which some power plants are already doing. This method involves lowering a steel box into a spent fuel pool, placing the fuel inside the box, draining it of liquid and then pumping it full of an inert gas to prevent rust. The box is then placed in a concrete-and-steel sleeve on a concrete pad surrounded by barbed wire, closed-circuit cameras and security guards. This solution isn’t considered sufficient for long-term disposal.

 

Restart Yucca Mountain

Politicians outside Nevada, as well as many industry leaders, argue the nation has no choice but to find a physical location where nuclear fuel can be stored for hundreds of years. Many of these advocates add that the U.S. already has one site mostly ready to go—Yucca Mountain—and the government should focus on shoring it up so it can be put to use. The problem with this answer comes down to two words: Harry Reid. The Senate majority leader absolutely refuses to allow the nation to dump its radioactive garbage in his state. Yucca Mountain may become politically viable only after Reid is no longer in power in the Senate.

 

Reprocessing

The U.S. should take a cue from France, where leaders are seriously weighing nuclear reprocessing as a serious, if only partial answer, supporters say. Reprocessing involves the reuse of spent fuel, producing more fuel for reactors to use, while reducing the amount of leftovers in need of burial somewhere. Two problems exist for reprocessing: (1) It still leaves some fuel behind for disposal, and (2) Some of the leftover is plutonium, one of the most toxic substances in the world that also has applications in military weapons.

What Should We Do with America’s Nuclear Waste? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

What To Do With Nuclear Waste (by Lynn Edward Weaver, Ledger.com)

A New Urgency to the Problem of Storing Nuclear Waste (by Kate Galbraith, New York Times)

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Comments

Tony Orrigo 4 years ago
In this article there is no data to support or not support reprocessing. There is no data that would suggest if reprocessing is viable; France, Japan and Germany must have supporting data. For example; if we were to reprocess 10 million gallons of plutonium, how much of it could be reused as nuclear fuel; what is the percent of this reused fuel.....How much of spent fuel reduction is there after reprocessing. Can the reprocessed fuel be reprocessed again?

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Founded: 1987
Annual Budget: $3.4 million (FY 2013 Request)
Employees: 14 (+ 11 part-time board members) (FY 2013 Estimate)
Official Website: http://www.nwtrb.gov/
Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board
Bahr, Jean
Chair

Dr. Jean Marie Bahr was appointed to the U. S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB) on September 25, 2012, by President Barack Obama, who also chose her to serve as chair of the Board on January 5, 2017. NWTRB is an independent federal agency that conducts scientific and technical assessments of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) efforts to dispose of the nation’s commercial spent nuclear fuel and defense high-level radioactive waste.

 

Born circa 1954 to Rudolph R. Bahr, an electrical engineer, and Jane W. Bahr, Jean M. Bahr grew up in California. Her interest in environmental issues was piqued in high school when she went to a fair at Stanford University for the first Earth Day in 1970. She earned a B.A. in Geology and Geophysics at Yale University in 1976, and an M.S. and a Ph.D. in applied earth sciences (hydrogeology) at Stanford University in 1985 and 1987 respectively.

 

After Yale, Bahr worked as a geologist at Wahler Associates in Palo Alto, California, from 1976 to 1980, where a two-year stint on a project in Mali convinced her to get her doctorate. As a Stanford grad student, Bahr worked as a research assistant and teaching assistant from 1980 to 1985, and also worked part-time as a hydrogeologist for Geologic Testing Consultants Ltd., in Ottawa, Canada, from 1982 to 1983, and as a hydrologist for the Water Resources Division of the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California, from 1984 to 1986. 

 

Bahr has been a professor in the Department of Geoscience (formerly Geology & Geophysics) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 1987, where she is also affiliated with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. Her research focuses on physical, geochemical, and biogeochemical controls on the movement of underground water. She served as chair of the Nelson Institute’s Water Resources Management Graduate Program from 1995 to 1999, and of the Geoscience Department from 2005 to 2008, and faculty co-director of the Women in Science and Engineering Residential Learning Community from 2003 to 2005.

 

Bahr has served on numerous advisory committees through the National Research Council of the National Academies. She was a member of the Board on Radioactive Waste Management from 1992 to 1997. She chaired the Committee on Restoration of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem, and from 2004 to 2006 she was a member of the Committee on Research Priorities in Earth Science and Public Health. Bahr has also served on proposal review panels for the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the international Ocean Drilling Program. She served terms on the editorial boards of the journals Water Resources Research, Ground Water, and Hydrogeology.

 

Bahr was named a fellow of the Geological Society of America (GSA) in 1996, and was elected president of GSA for 2009-2010.

 

Among the studies to which Dr. Bahr has contributed are “A reflection on the first 50 years of Water Resources Research” and “Using Groundwater Models to Evaluate Strategies for Drinking-Water Protection in Rural Subdivisions.”

-Matt Bewig

 

To Learn More:

Official Biography

Interview with Jean Bahr: Education in Hydrogeology (EnvironmentalPrograms.net)

University of Wisconsin-Madison Personal Home Page of Dr. Jean Bahr

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Ewing, Rodney
Previous Chairman

 

On September 25, 2012, President Barack Obama made Dr. Rodney C. Ewing chairman of the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, a panel on which Ewing has sat since July 2011. Obama reaffirmed Ewing’s position on June 13, 2014. The Review Board conducts scientific and technical assessments of the Department of Energy’s activities to dispose of the nation’s commercial spent nuclear fuel and defense high-level radioactive waste.

 

Ewing is from Irving, Texas, outside Dallas. He graduated from Texas Christian University in nearby Fort Worth in 1968 with a B.S. in geology. He then served in the Army for two years, teaching English to children in Vietnam for part of his tour.

 

Upon his discharge, Ewing went to Stanford on a National Science Foundation grant, earning an M.S. in 1972 and a Ph.D. in 1974. His graduate work focused on metamict minerals, which are damaged by uranium and thorium atoms. The study of those minerals led to work on the disposal of nuclear waste.

 

Ewing’s first professorship came at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. He continued work on metamicts and used that research to study how nuclear materials affect minerals to find effective containers in which to store nuclear waste, which must be isolated for thousands of years.

 

After 23 years in New Mexico, Ewing was lured to the University of Michigan in 1997. He continued his work with nuclear energy and materials, holding appointments in the departments of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences from 1997 to 2013, Geological Sciences from 1997 to 2013 and Materials Science and Engineering from 2008 to 2013. From 2011 to 2012, Ewing was a visiting professor at Stanford in its Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC).

 

He returned to Stanford on a full-time basis in 2013 as its Stanton Professor of Nuclear Security Studies, continuing his work on nuclear issues.

 

Along the way, Ewing has published more than 650 scientific papers and received a patent for the development of a highly durable material for the immobilization of excess weapons plutonium. He was also a founding editor of Elements magazine.

-Steve Straehley

 

To Learn More:

Official Biography

Earth Scientist And Nuclear Waste Expert Rod Ewing Joins Stanford (by Beth Duff-Brown, Stanford University Center for International Security and Cooperation)

Power Mandate (by Nancy Allison, TCU Magazine)

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