Appeals court rejects Yucca Mountain lawsuit

04 July 2011

The attorney general of Washington State says that the state will continue its fight to prevent the US Department of Energy (DoE) abandoning plans for the Yucca Mountain radioactive waste repository in Nevada after an appeals court rejected its case.


Yucca Mountain - aerial
Yucca Mountain (Image: DoE)
Attorney General Rob McKenna announced in April 2010 that Washington had filed suit in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to prevent the DoE from "irrevocably terminating the Yucca Mountain radioactive waste repository by withdrawing 'with prejudice' its licence application for the repository."


Washington was subsequently joined in its petition by the state of South Carolina, together with the government of Aiken County in South Carolina and several individuals.


In its lawsuit, Washington claims that the DoE's decision to "irrevocably terminate the Yucca Mountain project in favour of an unknown and yet-to-be identified alternative" violates the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.


Washington requested that the Court of Appeals issue a permanent injunction requiring DoE to continue to fulfil its obligations with respect to the Yucca Mountain project and prohibit the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) from hearing or granting the DoE's motion to withdraw its licence application.


However, on 1 July, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals ruled that the request by Washington, South Carolina and the other petitioners was premature as the NRC had yet to decide whether the DoE could withdraw its application for the Yucca Mountain repository.


In its ruling, the court said that there is "a lack of finality and ripeness until the commission either acts on the DoE's motion to withdraw or rules on the licence application."


"This case is far from over," said Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna. He added, "The Court of Appeals today ruled only that our suit is premature because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not issued a decision on the merits of the application to build the Yucca Mountain repository or on the Department of Energy's motion to withdraw that application."


"We will review the court’s decision and consider our options for moving forward in coordination with our clients in the Governor's office, the Department of Ecology, and our fellow petitioners," McKenna said. "However, we are encouraged that the court recognized the federal government's legal responsibility to provide for disposal of the nation’s high-level waste and that Washington's concerns regarding the federal government’s commitment to that responsibility are reasonable."


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.


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News