We’ve been kicking things around for more than a year, but we simply cannot make up our mind on what to do. And since there’s no money left anyway, well, we might as well give up and shut things down. No?
That’s the gist of a surreal decision issued Friday by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regarding the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada. The opinion comes in response to a ruling last year by the internal Atomic Safety Licensing Board, which found that the Obama administration does not have the legal authority to simply walk away from the project (background here). Congress already wrote the law designating Yucca, the board said, and so the Energy Department must now follow science as its guide.
In celebration of the fact that this is one of those rare occasions in the news business where a legal decision is in fact shorter than the stories that follow, I will hereby post the NRC’s response in its entirety:
On June 30, 2010, the participants were invited to submit briefs as to whether the
Commission should review, and reverse or uphold, the Board’s decision denying the
Department of Energy’s motion to withdraw its construction authorization application with
prejudice. Upon consideration of all filings in this matter, the Commission finds itself evenly
divided on whether to take the affirmative action of overturning or upholding the Board’s
Consistent with budgetary limitations, the Board has taken action to preserve information
associated with this adjudication. In furtherance of this, we hereby exercise our inherent
supervisory authority to direct the Board to, by the close of the current fiscal year, complete all
necessary and appropriate case management activities, including disposal of all matters
currently pending before it and comprehensively documenting the full history of the adjudicatory
Short, sweet, and dreadfully confusing.
The five-member commission might have ordered its staff to go through the books and wrap things up by end of the month, but others have a very different interpretation. The Associated Press reports that Republicans on Capitol Hill say the decision affirms last year’s board ruling and puts Yucca Mountain back on course.
Given that one of the five commissioners recused himself and the other four were divided, the question is what happens in the event of a tie. And apparently the commission couldn’t agree that either, because the ruling itself is silent on the matter. All it says is that Congress hasn’t allocated any money, so that’s that. Which of course is not how things work in the legal world, where obligations are evaluated according to the law, not budgets.
As discussed in our earlier posts, the case is already pending in the federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which earlier declined to rule because the NRC had not itself ruled on the matter. Now the commission has given the court something it can work with. And so we wait.
Photo credit: The Associated Press