Nuclear Waste Policy Act

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (NWPA) created a timetable and procedure for establishing a permanent, underground repository for high-level radioactive waste.  The NWPA also provided for temporary federal storage of waste, including spent fuel from civilian nuclear reactors.  The NWPA supports the use of deep geologic repositories for the safe storage and/or disposal of radioactive waste.  It also provides a timetable of key milestones federal agencies must meet in carrying out the program.  The NWPA authorizes state governments to veto a national government decision to place a waste repository within their borders, and the veto would stand unless both houses of Congress voted to override it.

The NWPA established the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to handle the repositories.  The Office had the responsibility of building, operating, and monitoring these geologically-mined repositories.  The Office was also charged with developing a transportation system connecting the nuclear power plants and repositories to guarantee the safe transport of nuclear waste.

The NWPA requies U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set public health and safety standards for releases of radioactive materials from a repository.  The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) promulgates regulations governing construction, operation, and closure of a repository.  Approval by the NRC is needed before a repository can go into use. The NRC will provide a license to operate a repository only if the repository meets EPA’s standards and all other relevant requirements.  To pay for such activities, the Act established the Nuclear Waste Fund that required energy consumers to pay a small fee on the power generated at nuclear power plants.

The 1987 amendment of the NWPA designated Yucca Mountain, Nevada as a permanent repository for all of the nation’s nuclear waste.  The amendment prohibited DOE from conducting site specific activities at a second site unless authorized by Congress.  The amendment created the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, composed of ten scientists.  The Board acts as an independent source of expert advice on the scientific and technical aspects of the DOE’s handling of the disposal process.

Inside Nuclear Waste Policy Act