Federal judges are again being asked to solve a difficult problem that lawmakers can’t fix: the decades-old morass of how to handle tons of nuclear waste lying in temporary storage around the country.
A panel of federal appellate judges on Wednesday will hear arguments in a lawsuit filed by South Carolina and Washington state seeking an end to a political stalemate that now could be linked to the presidential election.
The states want the judges to force the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to decide whether the Energy Department has properly withdrawn its application for a nuclear-waste site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Until that decision is made, nothing can move forward unless Congress decides to act.
Congress passed a law in 1987 requiring that a central waste repository be dug beneath Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, but Nevada politicians’ fierce opposition has stymied the project.
While 36 states are holding waste from active or decommissioned nuclear power plants, South Carolina and Washington have more waste ”“ and more toxic waste ”“ than others. The Savannah River Site in South Carolina and the Hanford Site in Washington contain large amounts of waste from plutonium used in former nuclear-weapons production.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said Monday that his state was suing the U.S. Energy Department because it had stopped building the Yucca dump despite failing to get the required approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to abandon the project.
”œThey unilaterally withdrew their license application,” Wilson said. ”œThey’re not enforcing the law that was passed.