Judges block Obama effort to close Yucca Mountain waste site

So the Executive Branch is being slapped down for trying to grab too much power. The guy isn’t the King of America, just the leader one of the three branches of our government. From KansasCity.com.

By JAMES ROSEN
McClatchy Newspapers

The Obama administration has suffered a defeat in its efforts to close the nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Three administrative judges within the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruled last week that President Barack Obama and Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu don’t have the authority to close the controversial site unilaterally. That can only be accomplished, the judges said, by an act of Congress.

“Unless Congress directs otherwise, DOE may not single-handedly derail the legislated decision-making process by withdrawing the (Yucca repository) application. DOE’s motion must therefore be denied,” the judges wrote, adding that the DOE had weakened its arguments by “conceding that the application is not flawed nor the (Yucca) site unsafe.”

“Given the stated purposes of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and the detailed structure of that legislation, it would be illogical to allow DOE to withdraw the application without any examination of the merits,” the judges found.

The Yucca site has been controversial for a generation. The federal government designated Yucca Mountain in 1987 as the repository of highly toxic waste from nuclear complexes that built atomic bombs during the Cold War and has spent more than $10 billion readying it to receive some of the most dangerous material in the world.

Most Nevada politicians oppose the site, fearing its location 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas will become a drag on Las Vegas’ $28 billion tourism industry, but politicians from other states with large stockpiles of nuclear materials are eager for the dump to open.

In addition to waste from the construction of atomic weapons, the site also will accept less toxic – but still plenty deadly – waste from the nation’s 104 commercial nuclear reactors.

Republicans accuse Obama of moving to close the site to help Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in his tough re-election battle.

“The president is risking the country’s energy independence in an effort to help Senator Reid win a tough election,” said Sen. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, senior Republican on a House Select Committee on Energy and Global Warming.

The administrative judges’ ruling already is scheduled for reconsideration. On Wednesday, the day after the ruling was announced, the NRC quickly set a schedule to hear an appeal, calling for follow-up briefs to be filed by July 16.

“The department remains confident that we have the legal authority to withdraw the application for the Yucca Mountain repository,” said DOE spokeswoman Jenni Lee. “We believe the administrative board’s decision is wrong and anticipate that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will reverse that decision.”

If the NRC rules against the Energy Department, the agency can appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. That appellate court is already adjudicating parallel litigation involving Nevada, South Carolina, Washington and other states with large amounts of high-level nuclear waste from past atomic weapons production.

In January, Chu set up the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Energy Future, led by former Rep. Lee Hamilton and former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, to seek alternatives to Yucca Mountain for radioactive waste disposal.

Not just the nuclear waste has proved controversial. The 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act also set a surcharge on the electrical bills of users of nuclear-generated power to develop and operate a dump for nuclear waste.

That surcharge, which has generated about $32 billion, has hit South Carolinians especially hard because nuclear power provides 51 percent of their electricity, more than in all but two of the other 30 states with commercial reactors.

After Obama moved to mothball Yucca, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., introduced a bill in April 2009 to give nuclear utility consumers rebates from the Yucca surcharges.

“The decision by the Obama administration to close Yucca Mountain was ill-advised and leaves our nation without a disposal plan spent nuclear fuel or Cold War waste,” Graham said.

South Carolina politicians are united in backing the Yucca Mountain site also because of waste from the federal government’s Savannah River Site on the South Carolina-Georgia border, one of the Department of Energy’s main nuclear research facilities.

“Currently, South Carolina is storing 37 million gallons of liquid waste at SRS, as well as tons of used fuel rods at nuclear plants across the state that are intended to be shipped to Yucca Mountain,” said Rep. John Spratt, a South Carolina Democrat.

“Should Yucca Mountain not be opened, South Carolina would be stuck with this waste indefinitely,” he said.

Spratt said he will use his post as House Budget Committee chairman to try to restore at least some of the funds cut by Obama to start building the Yucca repository.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Nuclear Power. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s