The U.S. Department of Energy announced on March 3 that it had filed a motion to withdraw its license application to store high-level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.

In a news release, the DOE stated that it filed the motion with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission with prejudice. President Barack Obama has instructed Energy Secretary Steven Chu to establish a commission to study the issue of how best to dispose of nuclear waste.

"President Obama is fully committed to ensuring that the nation meets our long-term storage obligations for nuclear waste," DOE General Counsel Scott Blake Harris said in the statement. "In light of the decision not to proceed with the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, the president directed Secretary Chu to establish the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future to conduct a comprehensive review of policies for managing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle and to provide recommendations for developing a safe, long-term solution to managing the nation’s used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste."

The commission is scheduled to hold its first meeting March 25.

The White House signaled last summer its desire to end the Yucca Mountain project in Nevada and seek alternative solutions to the nuclear waste question.

At his appearance before a Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on March 4, Chu defended terminating Yucca Mountain as the nation’s repository for high-level radioactive waste. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) grilled the secretary at that hearing. On March 3, her state filed with the NRC seeking to intervene in the case against the DOE’s request.

Murray said she was disturbed that nearly 30 years of study to choose and develop Yucca Mountain was being abandoned with no assurances that problems might not be discovered in less-studied options that could be picked to replace it. She added that she was concerned the result could be that high-level waste may remain at the Hanford Site in Washington state indefinitely. Murray also said she was concerned about cuts in the administration’s proposed fiscal 2011 budget for protecting and cleaning up ground water at Hanford.

According to the DOE, the federal government plans a two-year study of options for disposal of commercial nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive defense waste, the majority of which is at the Hanford Site, where reactors produced plutonium from 1944 to 1987.

Sources: DOE, United Press International, Tri-City Herald