Wednesday, June 30, 2010

3 Judge NRC Panel Says DOE Cannot Drop Yucca Application

Administration Cannot Drop Bid for Nuclear Waste Dump in Nevada, Panel Finds
Center President Norris McDonald at Yucca Mountain in 2003
In a 47-page decision, a three-member panel of administrative judges at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruled on Tuesday that the Energy Department could not withdraw its application to open a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. They said the Energy Department lacked the authority to drop the petition because it would flout a law passed by Congress. The decision on Tuesday could be overruled by the five-member Nuclear Regulatory Commission itself. President Obama had promised in his election campaign to drop the Yucca Mountain plans if he were elected. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) also opposes Yucca Mountain.

In the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, Congress directed the Energy Department to file the application and the commission to consider it and:

“issue a final, merits-based decision approving or disapproving the construction. Unless Congress directs otherwise, DOE may not single-handedly derail the legislated decision-making process.”
Congress would have to appropriate hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the Energy Department to pursue the application. But the president’s budget for next year proposes no money at all.

The three-judge panel noted that the Energy Department was not claiming that Yucca was unsafe or that there was anything wrong with the 86,000-page application, but was saying only that the site was “not a workable option.”

The Energy Department’s waste program has been mostly financed by electricity consumers, who pay one-tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour into a nuclear waste fund. About $10 billion has been spent so far. (NYT, 6/29/2010)

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