In response to a pivotal federal court decision in August, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) last week said it will seek comments on how to restart the licensing process for the Yucca Mountain permanent nuclear waste repository in Nevada.
The request will help the NRC “ensure the most efficient and productive use of the approximately $11 million the agency has left to resume the licensing process, which was suspended in September 2011,” the agency said. The commission has also directed its staff to gather “pertinent budgeting information” during the 30-day comment period. Once it reviews the requested comments and information, it will “decide the path forward in the licensing process.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in a 2-1 decision on Aug. 13 granted a long-sought writ of mandamus to petitioners, which include the states of Washington and South Carolina, with backing from industry group the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC).
Since 2010, when the Department of Energy (DOE) withdrew from the NRC its June 2008–submitted application to license the Nevada facility and moved to terminate the project, the petitioners have sought to legally force the NRC to comply with the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. That law passed by Congress in 1983 provides that the NRC “shall consider” the DOE’s license application to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. As the federal court pointed out on Aug. 13, the law also calls on the NRC to “issue a final decision approving or disapproving” the application to store nuclear waste at the repository within three years of its submission—or extend the deadline by an additional year if it issues a written report explaining the reason for the delay.
As Chief Judge Merrick Garland noted in the federal court’s Aug. 13 dissenting opinion, the NRC had not refused to proceed with the Yucca Mountain application, but unanimous votes from both the commission and the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board had suspended the application proceedings until there are sufficient funds to make “meaningful progress.”
“By way of comparison, the Commission’s budget request for the most recent year in which it still expected the Yucca Mountain proceeding to move forward was $99.1 million,” Garland wrote. “The only real question, then, is whether the Commission can make any meaningful progress with $11 million,” he wrote.
The federal court’s order became effective on Sept. 3.
Sources: POWER, NRC