Advanced science.  Applied technology.


CNWRA to continue operations at SwRI

Oct. 15, 2007 — The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission renewed its contract for another five years with Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®), authorizing SwRI to continue operating the Center for Nuclear Waste Regulatory Analyses (CNWRA). Under the $123 million contract, the CNWRA will provide technical assistance to NRC staff, in conducting pre-licensing and licensing reviews of a potential geologic repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev.

Within the next decade, efforts to authorize and build the repository may begin. For the past 20 years, the federally funded CNWRA has been part of the effort to study the Yucca Mountain, Nev., site, which could become the first geologic repository for disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. The NRC is an independent agency of the federal government and is the licensing authority for the potential repository.

On July 23, 2002, President George W. Bush signed House Joint Resolution 87, which authorized the U.S. Department of Energy to submit a license application seeking NRC approval to build a repository at Yucca Mountain. Currently, DOE plans to submit a license application to the NRC by June 30, 2008. If NRC authorizes construction and, later, allows the Energy Department to receive and dispose of waste, repository operations could begin by 2017.

"The CNWRA is beginning its twenty-first year of operation at SwRI," said Dr. Wesley C. Patrick, vice president of the Geosciences and Engineering Division. "We continue to actively fulfill our mission with the NRC by providing technical assistance to NRC staff. We have achieved the vision we set for ourselves in 1987 of becoming a center of excellence in earth science and engineering, and we continue to strive to improve our service to all clients."

CNWRA President Dr. Budhi Sagar emphasized the breadth of programs undertaken by the CNWRA. "Although we were originally established to support the NRC high-level radioactive waste repository safety program, we now provide technical assistance to NRC for technical and licensing programs in interim storage of radioactive wastes, various fuel-cycle facilities, and consideration of associated environmental impacts, as well as providing technical assistance on selected nuclear power reactor projects."

Established in October 1987 as a federally funded research and development center, the CNWRA offers the Commission independent assessment capability. The potential high-level radioactive waste repository is intended to safely house and isolate 70,000 metric tons of high-level radioactive nuclear waste from the environment for at least 10,000 years. At this time in the United States, nuclear waste is stored temporarily at more than 100 locations across the country. The potential repository at Yucca Mountain, if licensed under strict NRC regulations, would provide a permanent, safe, underground disposal, of the nation's high-level nuclear waste.

The CNWRA will also provide technical assistance to NRC in evaluating the design, construction, operation and ultimate closure of the potential repository. Projects include participating in NRC outreach activities and providing technical assistance for developing criteria and methods to assist the Commission in evaluating DOE site characterization efforts.

The CNWRA mission focuses on nuclear waste issues in the United States. In addition, however, the CNWRA assists NRC outside the waste arena, and works on projects with foreign governments and agencies that are developing regulatory procedures or need to evaluate storage or disposal of radioactive material. CNWRA staff members have conducted research and peer reviews related to radioactive waste management in Canada, France, Japan, Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere.

For more information, visit

For more information contact Tracey M.S. Whelan at (210) 522-2256, Communications Department, Southwest Research Institute, 6220 Culebra Road, San Antonio, TX 78238-5166.