NRC decision on Yucca Mountain application soon

26 April 2010

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will decide in the next few weeks whether the Department of Energy (DoE) can withdraw its application to construct a national spent fuel and high-level waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.


In February 2009, the Obama administration announced that funding for the Yucca Mountain project had been reduced to all but zero and that a new plan for the disposal of the country's used nuclear fuel and high-level waste would be developed. The project came to an official halt on 3 March 2010 when the DoE filed a motion with the NRC to withdraw the application to build and operate Yucca Mountain.


Since the DoE submitted its motion to withdraw the Yucca Mountain licence application, several lawsuits have been filed questioning the legality of DoE's proposed withdrawal. Earlier this month, sixteen electricity utilities, together with US nuclear industry organisation the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), filed a lawsuit against the DoE seeking a suspension of payments into the country's nuclear waste fund. The suit followed a similar one filed days before by the National Association of Utility Regulators (NARUC). Washington State has also filed a lawsuit against the DoE to prevent it abandoning plans for the Yucca Mountain repository.


The NRC's Construction Authorization Board issued a decision on 6 April suspending its consideration of intervention petitions and the DoE's motion to withdraw. The board said it was prudent and efficient to wait until the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has ruled on the lawsuits before it challenging the DoE's withdrawal.


However, the NRC has now said that "given the unique circumstances of this case, we review and vacate the board's decision as an exercise of our inherent supervisory authority over jurisdictions." The commission said, "If judicial review is pursued after our final decision, the application of our expertise in the interpretation of the Atomic Energy Act, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, and our own regulations will, at a minimum, inform the court in its consideration of the issues raised by DoE's motion to withdraw."


The NRC added, "We respectfully do not agree with the board in freezing our consideration of DoE's motion to withdraw promotes respect for the courts or efficiency." It noted, "It is not clear when or if the DC Circuit will provide the guidance the board expects on those issues." It continued, "Thus, rather than await a judicial decision, the timing and result of which is uncertain, and absent a contrary instruction from the court, we think the prudent course of action is to resolve the matters pending before our agency as expeditiously and responsibly as possible."


The NRC has requested that Construction Authorization Board issues a decision on the DoE's motion to withdraw the Yucca Mountain application no later than 1 June 2010.


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News