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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)