(CN) – The D.C. Circuit ruled that a decision on the controversial Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada lies firmly with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The decision tabled the hopes of South Carolina and Washington for the federal government to move forward with plans on the Nevada dump, under fears that temporary storage sites in the petitioning states would become permanent.
These fears are well founded, the D.C. Circuit said – however, they are also premature, the court determined.
The two states, along with a S.C. county and three citizens living near the temporary waste sites, challenged two decisions by the Department of Energy: withdrawing an application for Yucca Mountain construction license, and abandoning work on developing the site.
Congress under the G.W. Bush administration in 2002 recommended Yucca Mountain as the sole option for developing a permanent repository for radioactive waste from spent nuclear material.
The site, on traditional lands of Shoshone and Paiute tribes, is said to disproportionately affect Native Americans. Concerns also exist over potential earthquake activity in the area.
Yet, by some estimates, the lack of a permanent repository would cost U.S. taxpayers billions in increased monitoring at temporary sites.
The state of Nevada opposed the site, and President Obama made good on a campaign promise to abandon its development.
Obama appointed Gregory Jaczko, a former advisor to Nevada Senator Harry Reid, to chair the NRC in 2009. Obama’s Department of Energy scuttled Yucca Mountain plans in 2010.
Although the DOE withdrew its application and has halted construction at the site, it’s really up to the NRC to decide its fate, the appeals circuit wrote in three separate concurring opinions.
Judge Kavanaugh said this case is a “mess” due to overlapping responsibilities between the two agencies. While both are under the executive branch, the NRC can act more independently.
But for now, he wrote, “the ball in this case rests in the executive branch not with the President, but rather with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”
Since the commission hasn’t made a final decision on Yucca Mountain yet, the case was determined untimely and dismissed.