As litigation over the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility heats up, the U.S. Department of Energy announced yesterday that it would postpone shutting down the facility for 21 days.
Since his confirmation hearing, Energy Secretary Steven Chu has consistently said the Nevada site is not an option for storing radioactive waste. In February, the department moved to irrevocably terminate the project by withdrawing its licensing application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The move is strongly resisted by the states of Washington and South Carolina, and Aiken County, SC, which have all been stuck storing waste.
In an April 13 filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the state of Washington requested a judgment declaring that the department’s decision to withdraw the license application violates the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and the Natural Environmental Policy Act, and that it is arbitrary and capricious.
The state also asked for a preliminary injunction to stop the Energy Department from moving forward with dismantling the site.
“DOE’s actions demonstrate that it is not waiting for either Congressional approval of termination of the Yucca Mountain project, or a decision by this Court or any other tribunal on whether its actions are legal,” wrote Robert McKenna, Washington state Attorney General.
McKenna also noted nearly two-thirds of the nation’s nuclear waste is stored in his state at DOE’s Hanford site in “aging, leak-prone underground tanks.”
Yesterday, the Energy Department appeared to back down slightly.
In a statement, DOE asserted it was “confident that we have the legal authority to withdraw the application for the Yucca Mountain repository.”
Nonetheless, “the parties need some time to prepare and the Court needs time to consider the issues. We are proposing to halt temporarily any actions to shut down Yucca Mountain simply to provide that time.”
A Blue Ribbon Commission is currently studying what to do with the country’s nuclear waste.