Yucca Mountain court case on hold

06 August 2012

US appeal court judges have ruled that a case seeking a resumption of licensing work for a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain will be put on hold, despite agreeing that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) cannot legally give up work on the application.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has ruled that the case be held in abeyance for up to four months pending finalization of fiscal 2013 funding appropriations. Petitioners led by Aiken County brought the proceedings seeking a writ of mandamus, which would effectively force the licence application work to be resumed.

According to circuit judge Brett Kavanaugh, the NRC has said it does not have sufficient appropriated funds to complete the licensing. While the NRC has "no legal authority" to refuse to carry out the work, the court has ruled that it will await the 2013 federal appropriations bill, which could allocate funding for Yucca Mountain licence work. The parties must file information on the FY2013 appropriations by 14 December.

US nuclear industry representatives reacted to the court decision with dismay. Ellen Ginsberg vice president and general counsel for the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) said the US industry was "disappointed" that the court had not taken the opportunity to directly address the NRC's "unambiguous statutory obligation". David Wright, president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) said that the decision would serve to delay the "inevitable" decision to compel the resumption of the licence review. "While we would have preferred that the court act now instead of waiting on Congress, it seems clear that the majority of the judges favour our request that the agency be ordered back to work," he said.

Yucca Mountain was designated as the site for the USA's high-level nuclear waste repository in 1987, but licensing work was suspended after the Obama administration eliminated the project's funding in 2010.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News