By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: Five members of Congress representing the states of Washington and South Carolina have sent a letter to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu protesting a decision to reallocate $115 million budgeted for work on Yucca Mountain and discontinue licensing of the site as a nuclear waste repository.
In the letter dated March 18, the Congressional representatives said the decision is contrary to the intent of Congress and that they regard the proposal “as prematurely and unwisely removing deep geologic disposal from the options to be considered” for addressing the nation’s nuclear waste issue.
Bruce Breslow, executive director of Nevada’s Agency for Nuclear Projects, said he is aware of several such letters being sent to Chu in opposition to President Obama’s call to end consideration of Yucca Mountain as a long-term repository for the nation’s nuclear waste.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the United States Nuclear Energy Foundation and the Alliance for Nevada’s Economic Prosperity, among other groups have all urged continued funding for the Yucca Mountain project.
The Alliance for Nevada’s Economic Prosperity is a group of Nevadans that wants the state to urge Congress for a change to the plans at Yucca to make it an Energy Park, which could host a research facility, an interim and long-term repository, and, possibly, a reprocessing plant that will generate clean energy by reprocessing the spent fuel.
Breslow said several entities, including the states of Washington and South Carolina, have also filed lawsuits in U.S. District Court in an effort to keep the Yucca Mountain project alive, although he called those lawsuits premature since the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has yet to decide whether to allow withdrawal of the Yucca application.
The decision by the U.S. Department of Energy to seek to withdraw its licensing application “with prejudice” will go through a lengthy administrative process before a final decision is ultimately made by the NRC, he said.
First a group of federal judges overseeing the licensing process, called the Construction Authorization Board, or CAB, will determine who can intervene in the Energy Department’s decision to withdraw, Breslow said. Then the various parties will make their cases and the CAB will issue a decision.
Any decision by the CAB can then be appealed to the NRC. Any decision by the NRC can also be challenged in federal court, he said.
“The NRC will make its decision sometime in the late summer, probably,” Breslow said. “I then expect one or more of the parties, depending on the decision, to appeal to federal court.”
The state of Nevada has been fighting the creation of a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain for decades.
Some Nevada residents have argued the state should enter into negotiations to accept the waste in exchange for funding from the federal government.
The letter from Reps. John Spratt, D-SC, Norm Dicks, D-WA, James Clyburn, D-SC, Doc Hastings, R-WA, and Jay Inslee, D-WA, also said the reprogramming of the funds for Yucca would appear to violate the Nuclear Waste Policy Act which requires the DOE to “assure the expeditious preparation and construction of the Yucca Mountain site.”
While President Obama has proposed no funding for continued work at Yucca Mountain, ultimately it will be Congress that decides whether to appropriate money for the project, Breslow said.