Wash. AG seeks to ensure nuclear waste cleanup

Bryan Cohen Aug. 1, 2011, 1:00pm


SEATTLE (Legal Newsline) - Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna announced a lawsuit on Friday against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as part of a fight to ensure the timely cleanup of nuclear waste.

Washington has long fought to clean up 56 gallons of nuclear waste stored in leaky underground tanks in Hanford, Wash., and to continue the process to license Yucca Mountain as a deep geologic disposal site.

The new suit, which is a petition for a writ of mandamus, alleges that the NRC is "unreasonably withholding agency action."

"It's the federal government's responsibility to clean up Hanford," McKenna said. "This lawsuit seeks to compel the NRC to immediately resume consideration of the application to build and operate a repository at Yucca Mountain."

Congress designated Yucca Mountain as the nation's sole current repository site for deep geologic disposal of high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel in 2002. The U.S. Department of Energy filed an application with the NRC in 2008 for a license to construct the repository. In January 2010, the DOE and President Obama announced that they would withdraw the application.

McKenna's office has strenuously argued that removing Yucca Mountain as the nation's primary nuclear waste repository would significantly set back the clean-up at Hanford and put the state's environment and people at risk.

The suit alleges that the NRC has failed to issue a decision within the three year timeline required by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and that the commission has failed to consider the U.S. DOE's application as required by that act by not resolving the matter of DOE's motion to withdraw and, at the same time, closing out agency review of the application.

"The determination of whether Yucca Mountain should open should be made on the merits of the Department of Energy's license application, as Congress prescribed in law," Senior Counsel Andy Fitz said.

The NRC's required consideration of DOE's application is a mammoth undertaking that requires an independent staff review and a concurrent contested adjudication in which parties can challenge technical and legal aspects of the application. Commissioners then take the adjudication order and a safety evaluation report into account in determining whether or not to authorize construction.

McKenna filed an earlier suit alleging violations by the DOE, seeking to stop the DOE from unilaterally terminating the Yucca Mountain development process. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the suit was premature because the NRC has not issued a decision on the DOE's motion to withdraw that application. McKenna said the court did recognize the possibility of legal action against the NRC based on the circumstances giving rise to today's suit.

More News