Appeals Court Forces NRC to Work on Yucca Mountain License

A federal appeals court has sided with the states of Washington and South Carolina in a decision forcing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to work toward a licensing decision on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository mothballed by the Obama administration.

In a 2-1 decision Tuesday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the NRC was effectively ignoring federal law.

"This case raises significant questions about the scope of the executive’s authority to disregard federal statutes. ... Here, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has continued to violate the law governing the Yucca Mountain licensing process. We therefore grant the petition for a writ of mandamus," wrote Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh in the decision.  

The NRC is responsible for approving or rejecting a license for the Nevada repository project created by the Department of Energy to store commercial spent fuel and other nuclear waste. The court case dealt with the NRC's decision to suspend the licensing process after Congress defunded the project and the Obama administration began seeking an alternative, even though the NRC already had money to continue its work.

In his dissent, one judge agreed with the agency that the $11 million on hand was not enough to justify the work in light of the $99 million needed to complete it. As Congress is unlikely to appropriate more, Chief Judge Merrick Garland argued, the funds would simply be used to ramp up licensing activities, only to wind them back down for lack of further funding.

Nonetheless, the court' decision compels the NRC to continue its evaluation of the Yucca Mountain project. Its ultimate fate still lies with Congress, which passed the law designating the Yucca site in 1983, and which controls the money to build the repository.

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  • Anonymous

    This is very bad for the tax payer if the  NRC keeps working on a NRC license that will never to be completed.  It seems that we just keep on wasting money on a dead government projects. It is one thing to rule on a point of law, but another to look at the real problem and spent the money in resolving the spent nuclear waste problem.  Let's at least work on the problem of getting a location selected for dry storage at a DOE site as a pilot program before we attempt to position one in a US State and again fail to complete the project. The US Government need to move quickly on making this happen and stop wasting money on dead projects.

  • Anonymous

    Regardless of whether this is ultimately good or bad as far as the resolution of the spent fuel/high-level waste issue is concerned, the money does not come from the "tax payer."  It comes from the Nuclear Waste Fund, which accumulates by virtue of the 1 mill per kilowatt hour surcharge on nuclear-generated electricity.

    While it is somewhat off the subject, I do find it interesting that the Democrats in Congress (and the White House) have protested loudly about the Republican initiative to "defund" the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare"), but the same Democrats seem to have no trouble defunding a program that is authorized by statute (the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act) and for which money is still being collected via consumers' electricity bills.  I guess it depends whose ox is being gored.  Or maybe our politicians are nothing but a bunch of hypocrites.