State considers Yucca Mountain legal options

The state of Washington is considering its options after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission decided to see what happens in federal court regarding the Yucca Mountain, Nev., nuclear repository.

Last month the Department of Energy filed to permanently withdraw its license application with the NRC for Yucca Mountain. The state of Washington filed to become a party to the NRC proceedings in order to have legal standing to oppose the withdrawal.

The state had the option of filing to intervene in the NRC proceedings or file a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals to stop DOE from terminating Yucca Mountain. It chose to file with the NRC because that would be the first decision likely to be made on the issue, state Attorney General officials said then.

But now it appears that the NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board will wait to see what the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decides.

This week the NRC said it would suspend work on both the motions to join proceedings, including the state of Washington's motion, and also DOE's motion to withdraw its license proposal.

"The court's rulings have the potential to resolve or moot most, if not all, issues raise by the new petitions and by DOE's motion," the NRC said in a memorandum and order.

It encouraged the parties to seek a quick resolution of court claims.

At least three actions are pending in federal court on Yucca Mountain, including a lawsuit filed by three Tri-City business leaders -- Bob Ferguson, Bill Lampson and Gary Petersen -- asking the court to decide if the Obama administration has the legal authority to terminate Yucca Mountain.

They believe it is a violation of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.

The state of South Carolina also has filed a lawsuit.

"We're evaluating the options available to Washington in light of the NRC board's order," Andy Fitz, Washington State assistant attorney general, said Wednesday. "As of now, no final decision has been made."

Hanford has 2,347 tons of used heavy metal nuclear fuel out of DOE's inventory of 2,709 tons that were expected to go to Yucca Mountain for disposal.

In addition, Hanford will have a projected 9,700 canisters of radioactive waste glassified at the vitrification plant that had been planned to be disposed of at Yucca Mountain, which is more canisters than at any other DOE site.

In addition to DOE waste, Yucca Mountain also was planned to hold used commercial nuclear fuel.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533;