Appeals Court Hears Yucca Mountain Suit

On Wednesday a federal appeals court heard arguments in a suit brought by two states and other parties against federal regulators for abandoning work related to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

Funding for the  project was cut in 2010, reflecting the stance of President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who prefer an undetermined alternative for the disposal of spent fuel from commercial power plants. That year, though, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board denied the Department of Energy’s request to withdraw its license application for the facility, citing the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. A split 2-2 decision by NRC commissioners in September then sent the dispute into the courts.

The legal questions before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia involve the NRC’s authority to stop licensing work on a project mandated by Congress because of assumed future budget constraints. There remains $10 million in funding available for the licensing work. Federal regulators have argued that moving the process forward is pointless, though, saying that acquiring needed approvals and additional funding are unrealistic given the administration’s abandonment of the project.

As an alternative, the Obama administration set up the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. It made several non-binding recommendations to address the issue of spent fuel collecting at nuclear plants, including a recommendation to search for willing locations to site disposal facilities.

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