SEATTLE—Attorneys from both Washington state and Washington, DC, today urged a panel of judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to stop the federal Department of Energy (DOE) from unilaterally and irrevocably terminating the Yucca Mountain development process.
“Congress previously set forth a clear procedure for the siting of nuclear waste repositories to remove politics from the decision-making process,” said Attorney General Rob McKenna. “The federal government has blatantly ignored this process, playing politics instead of supporting a scientifically- studied, congressionally approved storage site for treated nuclear waste.
“Millions of hours and billions of dollars have been spent to research the safe disposal of our treated high-level waste and that of other states at the Yucca Mountain facility,” he continued. “In the meantime, the people of Washington and South Carolina continue to face the risk of exposure due to temporarily storing untreated waste at sites within their borders. These people have made their sacrifices for this county—and they deserve a federal government that follows the law.”
Senior Counsel Andy Fitz from the Washington State Attorney General’s Office shared his 20 minutes of oral argument time with Barry Hartman, attorney for fellow petitioners, Robert L. Ferguson et. al. The state of South Carolina and Aiken County, SC, are also represented in the suit.
Washington state is home to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, where roughly 53 million gallons of untreated, high-level radioactive waste is temporarily stored, awaiting treatment and disposal at the nation’s nuclear waste repository. Roughly one million gallons of waste has already leaked from Hanford’s tanks. Robert Ferguson, Gary Peterson and William Lampson are individuals who live in the Hanford area and are exposed to the dangers of this continued temporary storage.
Aiken County, SC, houses the Savannah River Site (SRS), another Department of Energy (DOE) temporary storage facility for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. The DOE’s own analysis indicates failure to move forward with the Yucca Mountain repository could result in “widespread contamination” at 72 commercial and five DOE sites, including the SRS, with resulting human health impacts.
The state argues that DOE’s decision to “irrevocably terminate the Yucca Mountain project in favor of an unknown and yet-to-be identified alternative” violates:
• The Nuclear Waste Policy Act which required the agency to submit its licensing application upon Congress approving Yucca Mountain as a repository;
• The National Environmental Policy Act which requires federal agencies to prepare an environmental impact study with alternatives for all “major federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment,” such as irrevocably terminating the Yucca Mountain project with no alternative at hand; and
• The Administrative Procedures Act because DOE “decisions and actions in terminating the Yucca Mountain project in favor of an unknown … alternative, including its … cryptic assertion that Yucca Mountain is ‘not a workable option’ … is arbitrary and capricious.”
The federal government argued the case was premature as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) had not issued its ruling on the DOE’s motion to withdraw its licensing application.
The state argued regardless of the NRC’s ruling, the DOE made its decision to terminate, not just the licensing project but the everything to do with the Yucca project, back in January 2010—and this decision is in violation of the process set forth under the law.
• Janelle Guthrie, APR, Communications Director, 360-586-0725, email@example.com