National Nuclear Garbage Can Part II: The Courts

Yucca Mountain. Photo by GPN, some rights reserved.

About a year ago, we posted on the debate surrounding Yucca Mountain, the proposed nuclear waste repository in Nevada. Approved by Congress in 2002, the Department of Energy submitted a license application in 2008, and spent $12 billion on the project. Since then, the project has stalled. The agency withdrew its application, and the 2011 federal budget included no funding for the repository project.

Our previous post (with more background details) discussed the GAO study reviewing the termination of the program, that found the DOE botched many steps along the way, and that restarting another repository project would add twenty years and cost billions more. In its apparent haste to abandon Yucca as a repository, the Department sold property associated with the project and lost years of staff and contractor expertise.

Now, Washington State and South Carolina, states with a large amount of nuclear waste, are suing the federal government, saying the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has a legal obligation to rule on whether Yucca Mountain is a suitable burial spot – something it has declined to do.

Theoretically, there is still potential funding for a nuclear waste-disposal project. The government has collected $29 billion from utilities for disposal of nuclear waste, but it is unclear if Congress will appropriate that money for a nuclear repository. The NRC still has $10 million for the licensing process at Yucca.

Andrew Fitz, a Washington State assistant attorney general arguing to a three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, claimed an NRC ruling on the suitability of Yucca as a repository is necessary for the development of any national nuclear waste site, and that the agency is abdicating its duty. An NRC lawyer pointed out that reviewing the DOE’s application with no prospect they would pursue the project would simply be a waste of the $10 million (the New York Times has the full story here).

A Times article from last May on the politics of the program’s cancellation makes some of this mess a little less confusing, but even if Washington and South Carolina’s legal challenge is successful, we probably shouldn’t cross our fingers for a centralized repository for the 143 million pounds of nuclear waste being stored locally near reactors in 33 states.

One response to this post.

  1. […] from nuclear-heavy states have taken the lead on Yucca. In addition, Washington and South Carolina have argued to the US Court of Appeals that the NRC must rule on Yucca’s potential as a waste site. Share […]


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