Congressional Research Service
Management of civilian radioactive waste has posed difficult issues for Congress since the beginning of the nuclear power industry in the 1950s. Federal policy is based on the premise that nuclear waste can be disposed of safely, but proposed storage and disposal facilities have frequently been challenged on safety, health, and environmental grounds. Although civilian radioactive waste encompasses a wide range of materials, most of the current debate focuses on highly radioactive spent fuel from nuclear power plants. The United States currently has no permanent disposal facility for spent nuclear fuel or other highly radioactive waste.
The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (NWPA) calls for disposal of spent nuclear fuel in a deep geologic repository. NWPA requires the Department of Energy (DOE) to develop such a repository, which would be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Amendments to NWPA in 1987 restricted DOE’s repository site studies to Yucca Mountain in Nevada. DOE submitted a license application for the proposed Yucca Mountain repository to NRC on June 3, 2008. The State of Nevada strongly opposes the Yucca Mountain project, citing excessive water infiltration, earthquakes, volcanoes, human intrusion, and other technical issues