Injunction needed to keep Yucca Mountain an option

The Obama administration has put a temporary hold on efforts to permanently abandon plans for a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.

But the three-week delay announced last week will expire long before there's any resolution in the dispute over Obama's unilateral move to overturn the nation's nuclear waste policy.

The timeline should be extended -- by a judge if necessary. It's irresponsible for the Department of Energy to continue dismantling the project while there's an open question about whether the move even is legal.

Washington state has requested an injunction to prevent DOE from closing the site until broader issues are decided. The U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia should grant it.

Gov. Chris Gregoire's and state Attorney General Rob McKenna's decision to file the suit was the right move for Washington.

South Carolina and a trio of Tri-City residents are also suing. If successful, the suits would force DOE to continue the licensing process for Yucca Mountain.

The plaintiffs aren't winning many friends in Nevada. "Since the state of Washington is so enthusiastic about underground storage of spent nuclear fuel, perhaps their governor and their citizens will volunteer to have the nation's nuclear waste dump located within their borders," Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons, a Republican, told The Associated Press.

That's the point: No state will volunteer. If politics are allowed to trump the technical process, there may never be a repository.

The licensing process doesn't guarantee anything. If the Nuclear Regulatory Agency's evaluation determines the site isn't safe, a license to open the repository won't be issued.

Congress outlined the process leading to a nuclear waste repository. It requires NRC to provide an extensive and independent review.

As we've said repeatedly, it's bad policy for the Obama administration to abandon the site before the scientific and technical review is completed.

It may also be against the law. The Yucca Mountain project needs to remain intact until that question is settled.