DOE contractor staffs up to restart project licensing

By Hannah Northey, Sam Mintz | 04/27/2017 01:01 PM EDT

Areva Federal Services LLC, a contractor for the Department of Energy, is preparing for the restart of the long-stalled Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada, according to a leaked document.

Areva Federal Services LLC, a contractor for the Department of Energy, is preparing for the restart of the long-stalled Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada, according to a leaked document. Photo by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, courtesy of Flickr.

As Congress starts debate on legislation that would jump-start the long-stalled Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project, the nuclear industry is getting ready for licensing the Nevada project.

In an internal newsletter obtained by E&E News, a Department of Energy contractor, Areva Federal Services (AFS), told employees the company anticipates the licensing process for the repository will be restarted "in the next few weeks."

The Aiken, S.C.-based company also said it plans to provide about 350 engineers for the effort, encouraging employees in the newsletter to signal their interest to a senior engineering manager.

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A subsidiary of the French nuclear giant Areva, AFS was given a five-year, $2.6 billion contract to work on the management and operation of Yucca Mountain in 2008 in support of USA Repository Services. According to the newsletter, AFS retained that agreement through the Obama administration’s 2010 shutdown of Yucca Mountain and remains under contract to help USA Repository Services.

The company is working to prepare for site reconnaissance and infrastructure upgrades ahead of the potential licensing restart, the newsletter says. Also on the horizon are hearings at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on more than 200 contentions that project foes, led by the state of Nevada, filed during the licensing process. Yucca Mountain is about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

At issue in the company’s bid to get engineers ready for relicensing, an Areva spokesman said, is the Trump administration’s fiscal 2018 "skinny budget" request for $120 million to support Yucca Mountain licensing at the NRC and an interim nuclear waste storage program.

"Basically, the article speaks to our due diligence and preparations as part of our normal business operations," spokesman Curtis Roberts said.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry yesterday gave his clearest indication to date that he would support the project, telling House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) in a letter yesterday that "the importance of resuming the licensing process became even clearer" during the DOE chief’s recent visit to the site (E&E News PM, April 26).

The letter came as members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment considered draft legislation from subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-Ill.) to advance the repository and allow the federal government to override Nevada on air and water permits.

But Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) and the state’s congressional delegation told Shimkus’ subcommittee yesterday that they’re concerned about how his bill would affect water rights, the transportation of nuclear waste and whether other states would be willing to house radioactive material.

"Let’s find a place in your district," Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.), whose district includes Yucca Mountain, told the subcommittee.

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