A federal appeals court says the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must renew its long-stalled review of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage project.
The ruling calls attention to two very different, but very big, problems.
First, it is a clear rebuke of the Obama administration’s policy of ignoring a federal law it doesn’t like.
The 1980s law states that the NRC must consider, and approve or reject, the Yucca Mountain application to become a repository for the waste from weapons production, Navy vessels and power plants.
But President Obama promised in 2008 to stop the facility, which also is opposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “By its own admission,” Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh wrote, “the commission has no current intention of complying with the law.”
And that’s wrong. The law is clear. As the judge said: “It is no overstatement to say that our constitutional system of separation of powers would be significantly altered if we were to allow executive and independent agencies to disregard federal law in the manner asserted in this case.”
The second problem has been building for decades. There are some 70 million metric tons of highly radioactive waste housed at 80 sites in 35 states. The Government Accountability Office forecasts that the amount of this material will double by 2055.
The federal government has spent more than $15 billion and 30 years looking for a suitable location.
The court’s ruling is a stark reminder that the administration must follow the law and that the government must keep its promise to find a safe site.