News blog

Yucca Mountain is dead, long live Yucca Mountain

yucca.mountain.latimes.ap.jpgWe’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


  1. Report this comment

    Brian O'Connell said:

    The NRC has taken 437 days to conclude it is unable to decide if the ASLB had a basis to deny the DOE request to withdraw the license. Then the Commission orders a shutdown anyhow, saying it lacks money. How do we know that? Is there any evidence that they asked OMB if there was any available from other sources. Did they check under the couch pillows?

    For the record,there is supposed to be around $25 billion in the Nuclear Waste Fund in the Treasury. This year utilities will pay another $770 million into the Fund and there are NO plans to spend any of it.

  2. Report this comment

    Shane Hanson said:

    We should reprocess the waste and use it to make energy. The processes are available and would keep the waste at the point of origin. Why the need to transport the waste? Why do we not process and reduce the waste? We legislated our way into a box and refuse to accept any other alternatives.

Comments are closed.