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Yucca Mountain waste site: Court orders nuclear agency back to work (+video)

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was ordered to comply with federal law and complete its review of a license application for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site, which Congress now refuses to fund.

Courter order on Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site
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A federal appeals court has ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to resume its review of a Department of Energy license application to operate the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site in Nevada, designated by Congress as the repository for highly radioactive spent fuel.

A three-judge panel of the US District Court of Appeals in Washington, ruling 2 to 1, criticized the NRC for halting work on the Energy Department's application, saying the agency "is simply defying a law enacted by Congress, and the Commission is doing so without any legal basis."

In its 29-page decision, the court said it wasn't interested in the nuclear-waste policy question, but saw the case as a revolving around the latitude the executive branch should have in "disregarding federal statues," an issue "with serious implications for our constitutional structure."

The ruling's impact on the future of Yucca Mountain is unclear.

“This case is not so much about Yucca Mountain as it is about due process," said Philip Jones, president of the National Association of State Utility Commissioners (NASUC), in a prepared statement.

"Existing law requires the NRC to determine whether the facility and location is safe for storing spent-nuclear fuel," he added. "Even if it does, the fate of Yucca Mountain remains uncertain."

The issue has a long, contentious history – from the early days of the site selection process through President George W. Bush's decision in 2002 to sign a joint resolution of Congress picking Yucca Mountain as the location for storing high-level radioactive waste.

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