By Elizabeth Crum, Nevada News Bureau: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) this morning voted to overturn the U.S. Atomic Energy Safety and Licensing Board’s order to suspend the Yucca Mountain administrative hearings.
The NRC has ordered the licensing board to make a decision on the Department of Energy’s (DOE) motion to withdraw the license for Yucca Mountain with prejudice by June 1.
Bruce Breslow, the executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, says the board’s decision is expected to be appealed to the NRC Commission and that the final NRC order will likely be appealed to the federal courts by one or more of the parties.
“The State of Nevada is pleased by this morning’s NRC ruling that allows the administrative hearing to continue,” said Breslow.
“I believe it is most important to exhaust all administrative remedies and get a final decision by this summer to allow the Department of Energy to withdraw its Yucca License Application with prejudice,” he said.
Randi Thompson, the executive director for the Alliance for Nevada’s Economic Prosperity, says the issue is more political than scientific.
“The NRC and the U.S. Atomic Energy Safety and Licensing Board are being used to make a politically motivated policy decision,” said Thompson. “To maintain their reputation as a scientific “regulatory” board, they have no choice but to punt this issue to the courts instead of being allowed to do their job and complete the scientific review process.”
Thompson said she believes Congress should just amend the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to allow for new technologies that would render the need for long-term storage at Yucca moot.
“Instead of using the NRC and throwing this issue into the courts at taxpayer expense, they should let the review process continue so Nevadans can learn one way or another if Yucca Mountain is a safe place to hold spent nuclear fuel either in the interim or long-term,” said Thompson.
There are still two federal court cases in which various interested parties are trying to stop the DOE from withdrawing the Yucca Mountain license application.
One lawsuit names the DOE and President Obama and is being litigated by the state of South Carolina, Aiken County, SC and a private party. The DOE has made a motion to hold the case in abeyance until May 12, and it is expected that the plaintiffs will soon respond to that motion.
The second lawsuit was brought by the state of Washington and challenges the DOE’s authority to withdraw the license under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
Washington has also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent the withdrawal of the application. The DOE has until April 24 to respond to that injunction, and the state of Washington has until April 28 to reply. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will then rule on the matter.
Breslow said additional federal court cases are expected after there is a final administrative decision from the NRC.
“I fully expect various parties to continue to ask the federal courts to jam this project down Nevada’s throat,” said Breslow. “But we’ll keep fighting this bad project which would cause serious harm to the health and economy of Southern Nevada.”
Thompson reiterated her long-held opinion that seeing the application process through and amending the scope and nature of the project are the right answer.
“They should not just toss out Yucca without an alternative,” she said.