Court Says NRC Violated Law and Orders Review of Yucca Mountain Application

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Runs 8/16/13 through 8/23/13

(THEME UP AND UNDER)  This is the CCNS News Update, an overview of the latest nuclear safety issues, brought to you every week by Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety.  Here is this week’s top headline:

*  Court Says NRC Violated Law and Orders Review of Yucca Mountain Application

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) must promptly continue its review of the 2008 Department of Energy (DOE) application for an operating license for the Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste site in Nevada.  The plaintiffs, including the states of Washington and South Carolina, each with large volumes of stored high-level waste, along with organizations and individuals, asked the court for a writ of mandamus requiring the federal agency to restart its application review.  A court may grant a writ in order “to correct transparent violations of a clear duty to act.”

In a 2 to 1 decision, the majority of the Court found that the NRC has been violating the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act that requires it to consider the license application and issue either a final approval or disapproval decision within three years of submission.  Congress has not provided the $200 million or more needed, so the NRC shutdown its review.

In the dissenting decision, Chief Judge Merrick Garland cited a 1936 case to support of the position that the NRC should not be made to review the application.  He wrote, “[c]ourts will not issue the writ to do a useless thing, even though technically to uphold a legal right.  [ ]  Unfortunately, granting the writ in this case will indeed direct the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to do ‘a useless thing.’”  Referring to the approximately $11 million in the NRC budget for the review, Judge Garland questioned whether any real progress could be made.  The NRC said it could not.  Judge Garland then wrote that using up the funds would amount “to little more than ordering the Commission to spend part of those funds unpacking its boxes, and the remainder packing them up again.”

This is an important time for New Mexicans to be involved.  Just as Nevadans rejected Yucca Mountain, New Mexicans have said no over and over again to proposed disposal of high-level waste at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).  Nonetheless, DOE has proposals to bring more waste to WIPP, and Representative Pearce has a bill in Congress to expand WIPP.  Other nuclear waste legislation also could result in high-level waste coming to WIPP even though existing law prohibits such waste.  The congressional summer recess is a good time to contact your senators and representative to let them know your concerns.

Don Hancock, of Southwest Research and Information Center, said, “Members of Congress need to hear again and again that New Mexicans still oppose bringing high-level waste to WIPP or anywhere else in the state.  No means No!”


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