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Court Orders NRC to Resume Yucca Mountain Review

Aug. 13, 2013—The Nuclear Energy Institute and the Nuclear Waste Strategy Coalition said that today’s federal court ruling on the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository licensing case is “a clear signal” that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is obligated to complete its evaluation of the Energy Department’s application and “issue a final decision granting or denying the license.”

“The nuclear energy industry fully expects the NRC to take all necessary steps to immediately resume its independent scientific evaluation of the Yucca Mountain license application, as directed by the court,” a joint statement from NEI and the NWSC said. “Similarly, the Energy Department must renew its efforts on this project and fully support the licensing process.”

The Obama administration terminated the Yucca Mountain repository project in 2010 while DOE’s application was still under NRC review. The NRC subsequently stopped work on the project, saying it lacked sufficient funding to continue. The states of Washington and South Carolina, Aiken County, S.C., state public utility regulators and others sought a court order to force the NRC to resume its review. NEI participated in the suit as a “friend of the court.”

In 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered the case held in abeyance to give Congress an opportunity to clarify its intent on funding the program and directed the parties to file status updates during this period. However, the court indicated that, given existing statutory language and the funds available to the NRC—approximately $11 million—it likely would order the license evaluation to continue unless the NRC resumed the process or Congress enacted legislation to either terminate it or clarify that no additional funds should be expended on licensing.

Today, the clock ran out.

“Since we issued that order more than a year ago … the [NRC] has not acted and Congress has not altered the legal landscape,” the court said in its Aug. 13 decision. “As things stand … the [NRC] is simply flouting the law.”

The court also said the NRC acted improperly in “declining to further process the license application.”

The NEI/NWSC statement urges Congress to provide appropriation funding in fiscal 2014 and beyond for the NRC’s review. “Consumers of electricity generated by America’s 100 reactors, who have contributed nearly $35 billion in fees and interest to the federal government specifically for used nuclear fuel management, deserve to know whether Yucca Mountain is a safe site for the permanent disposal of used nuclear fuel.”