Nuke lobby wins

Representatives of the nuclear power industry and of states seeking to unload their nuclear waste praised the legal arm of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for halting an Obama administration effort to bring the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump project to an end.

The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board rejected the administration’s effort to withdraw an application for licensing of the dump that had been submitted by the Bush administration in June 2008. The board members said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu already has the authority to withdraw the application. However, Chu withdrawing it would not kill the project. The Energy Department was seeking to have the application withdrawn “with prejudice,” which meant it could not be re-filed, conceivably killing the project.

State officials in various states with nuclear power plants praised the decision to keep the application active. Idaho and Washington, which have dumps of their own, also praised the decision because they want the content of their dumps moved into a Nevada dump.

The panel used an argument from Vietnam—“We can’t pull out now because we’ve invested so much already”—in making its decision.

“The [NRC] has variously described the adjudicatory portion of the proceeding on the application of the Department of Energy (DOE) for authorization to construct a national high level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, as ‘unusual,’ ‘extensive,’ and ‘unique.’ Ensuring that these labels remain current and valid, we now have before us DOE’s motion to withdraw with prejudice its 17-volume, 8600-page construction authorization application … an application submitted just a little over 24 months ago, but over two decades in the making and undergirded by millions of pages of studies, reports, and related materials at a reported cost of over 10 billion dollars.”

The interest of the nuclear power industry and other states in the Yucca dump was demonstrated by their interest in the proceedings.

“Conceding that the Application is not flawed nor the site unsafe, the Secretary of Energy seeks to withdraw the Application with prejudice as a ‘matter of policy’ because the Nevada site ‘is not a workable option.’ In response to the Secretary’s action, we also have before us five new petitions to intervene in the ongoing proceeding filed by the State of Washington (Washington), the State of South Carolina (South Carolina), Aiken County, South Carolina (Aiken County), the Prairie Island Indian Community (PIIC), and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), as well as the amicus curiae filing of the Florida Public Service Commission. In addition to DOE and the NRC Staff, which are regulatorily designated parties, there are currently ten admitted parties and two interested governmental participants in the ongoing high-level waste (HLW) proceeding.”

The full decision can be read at