Ever since Energy Secretary Steven Chu set about closing Yucca Mountain, Congress members have been handing DOE staff – and Chu – considerable grief for the decision at virtually every hearing since then. So the recent decision that the used fuel repository’s license application cannot be withdrawn from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission seems a kind of vindication, reasserting Congressional will – the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 that, via a 1987 amendment, designated Yucca Mountain as the used fuel repository – over an executive decision.
Drawing the lines between branches of government is, of course, a perpetual issue in American governance, but this decision seems clear cut: the Act and its amendment were passed by Congress and signed by President Ronald Reagan. Closing Yucca Mountain means overturning or further amending the Act – and no one seems eager to do either.
So if Congress does feel vindicated, why not press the point?
Some 91 members of Congress on Tuesday called on Energy Secretary Steven Chu to halt the dismantling of the high-level nuclear waste repository project at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
The lawmakers, 67 of whom are Republicans, told Chu in a letter that they "are deeply troubled" that the US Department of Energy is continuing to move forward with its plan to terminate the Yucca Mountain project despite recent actions by … the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission Atomic Safety and Licensing Board.
67 Republicans might feel like mischief, but those 24 Democrats provide a hefty bipartisan spirit. The Platts story notes this, but inflects it differently than we would:
All 91 lawmakers who signed the letter represent states that have nuclear power or DOE nuclear facilities with high-level defense waste stored on site.
That might make you think a fairly low number of states are represented by the letter, but in fact it includes 35 states. It’s hard to suggest a Congressperson represents a “nuclear state.” When you include businesses that provide materials and services for nuclear power plants (for example, New Mexico’s new uranium enrichment plant), every state is a nuclear state, one way or another.
Here’s the text of the letter:
Dear Secretary Chu:
We write today to request that the Department of Energy immediately halt all actions to dismantle operations at Yucca Mountain at least until legal action regarding the withdrawal of the application is resolved by the DC Circuit Court and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The DC Circuit Court has taken the important step of approving the motion to expedite legal actions and has combined the cases involving the State of Washington, State of South Carolina, Aiken County, and Tri-Cities, Washington community leaders. This is a clear demonstration by the Court that the merits of the case must be heard and ruled upon prior to further action by the Department of Energy to shut down Yucca Mountain.
On June 29, 2010, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board denied the Department's motion to withdraw its license application for Yucca Mountain, a clear statement that the Department does not have the authority under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to unilaterally terminate Yucca Mountain.
In light of the recent legal and regulatory actions, we are deeply troubled that the Department continues to move forward with terminating the project regardless of this decision. We are also concerned that the Department is using its budget proposal in an attempt to justify the termination of Yucca Mountain.
As you know, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act designated Yucca Mountain as the only candidate site for the national repository. Congressional intent is clear - Congress has voted several times to retain Yucca Mountain as the national repository. We are deeply disappointed that DOE has overstepped its bounds and has ignored congressional intent without peer review or proper scientific documentation in its actions regarding Yucca Mountain.
We ask that you recognize the letter and spirit of the law, honor the timeline set by the court, and halt all efforts to reprogram funds or terminate contracts related to Yucca Mountain.
Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to your timely response.
You can find a complete list of the signatories and a pdf copy of the letter here. This is Sen. Patty Murray’s (D-Wash.) site. She and Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) initiated the letter.
Rep. Doc Hastings rather surprisingly shaves off his beard regularly and equally regularly grows it back – not standard “brand” management, but perhaps Hasting doesn’t need it or care - the beard somehow seems right for a man named Doc.