WASHINGTON (CN) – The Department of Energy put a 21-day hold on dismantling the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site near Las Vegas, giving federal judges a chance to review a legal challenge to shutting down the site.
“We are confident that we have the legal authority to withdraw the application for the Yucca Mountain repository,” Department of Energy Stephanie Mueller said in a statement. “However, the parties need some time to prepare and the court needs time to consider the issues.”
In documents filed with the D.C. Circuit, attorneys from the DOE and the Department of Justice wrote that the agency “has agreed to stay for 21 days further action to effectuate a shutdown of the Yucca Mountain program in order to provide additional time for response and consideration of the motion for preliminary injunction.”
In the filing, the DOE promised to stop laying off employees, terminating contracts or telling contractors to stop work on the project through May 5 in order to give judges time to review Washington state’s motion for a preliminary injunction.
The hold keeps the agency under contract with site operator USA Repository Services.
Washington state wants to reverse the shutdown to avoid having the nuclear material stored within its borders. The state asked the court to keep the federal government “from taking any further actions to terminate or dismantle operations” at the Yucca Mountain site. The state says the decision to shut down the site violates federal laws.
Last year, President Obama put a stop to the Yucca Mountain project, recalling a pending application at the site, which had already cost $9 billion. The project was slated to store nuclear waste in tunnels 1,000 feet underground. After gradual employee cutbacks, fewer than 600 workers remain at the site.
“As the Secretary has said consistently,” Mueller wrote, referring to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, “Yucca Mountain is not an option and he looks forward to receiving the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission for the long term management of our spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste.”