Site fight

In arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C., circuit, states and municipalities seeking to dump their nuclear waste in Nevada made their case for a court ruling to re-start the Yucca Mountain suitability process, shut down after Congress failed to fund it.

The scientific suitability search process for a dump site was ended by Congress in 1987 in favor of a political designation of Nevada as the only site, followed by what the New York Times calls a “thin veneer of science” to make the process look good.

More recently, President Obama canceled the Yucca project, and Congress then ended funding for it. The states that are suing point to a 1982 federal law that requires the suitability process. The hearing focused on whether an existing law enacted by Congress can be effectively voided by Congress failing to fund it.

“Isn’t the writing on the wall?” asked Judge Brett Kavanaugh, pointing to Congress’s inaction. He noted that while courts can issue orders stopping governmental actions, court orders that require governmental actions are more complicated.

“Millions of hours and billions of dollars have been spent to research the safe disposal of our treated high-level waste and that of other states at the Yucca Mountain facility,” said Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, representing localities that want their locally generated waste removed to Nevada. “In the meantime, the people of Washington and South Carolina continue to face the risk of exposure due to temporarily storing untreated waste at sites within their borders. These people have made their sacrifices for this county and they deserve a federal government that follows the law.”

“We don’t have funds to use on this project,” said Nuclear Regulatory Commission lawyer Charles Mullins. The NRC stopped seeking congressional funding after it became apparent Congress will not approve it.

Although nuclear power corporations have contributed to a fund for the dump, that money has never been used and still rests in the fund.