Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) has denied the request by the Department of Energy to withdraw its licence application for the nuclear-waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
From the Associated Press:
Energy Secretary Steven Chu doesn't have the authority to pull the plug on a process that Congress started when it passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act in 1982, the NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board said in a 47-page order issued in Rockville, Md.
"Congress directed both that DOE file the application ... and that the NRC consider the application and issue a final, merits-based decision," the panel said. It said letting the department "single-handedly derail" the process would be "contrary to congressional intent."
Needless to say, the Energy Secretary Steven Chu and the Obama administration—which announced in March that it would withdraw the application—disagree with the ASLB's finding, and Energy Department officials have indicated that they will appeal the decision.
This ruling is not good news for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev), a longtime foe of the Nevada repository, who is facing a heavily contested election this year for a fifth term in the Senate. Nevertheless, Reid remains undaunted, stating that "the full commission will ... make the final decision." The commission is currently chaired by Reid's former staffer, Gregory Jaczko, who was appointed to this position by President Obama last year.
The fate of the motion to withdraw the license application is particularly important because the Department of Energy, under Secretary Chu, has filed the motion "with prejudice." This means that, if the motion is accepted, the same application cannot be resubmitted by another administration.
In spite of this decision, however, the resurrection of the Yucca Mountain repository is far from assured. The project's funding was zeroed out of the President's budget, and earlier this year, President Obama appointed a commission to recommend alternatives for this particular geological repository.
The DOE motion to withdraw is opposed by several groups, including the states of Washington and South Carolina. However, Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla) appears to want the last word on the politics of the situation:
"DOE Secretary Chu has given no reason for the NRC to cease its safety review other than stating that Yucca Mountain is no longer 'a workable option,'" Inhofe said in a statement. "While such comments may serve a political purpose, I'm glad the (NRC panel) has chosen to base its decision on the law."