by Steve Tetreault, Stephens Washington Bureau
Las Vegas Review-Journal
04 May 2010
WASHINGTON—The Department of Energy has been given the green
light to move full speed ahead with its shutdown plans for the
Yucca Mountain nuclear waste program.
A federal appeals court late Monday dismissed a request to
freeze termination activities until later this year, after judges
have weighed lawsuits challenging the shutdown.
The order clears the way for the DOE to resume dismantling the
Nevada waste repository program that the Obama administration
wants to shelve. Remaining federal employees were given pre-layoff
notices earlier this year, and the DOE was scheduled to issue a
termination letter to the project's management contractor.
"We welcome the court's decision," DOE spokeswoman Stephanie
Mueller said. "It means the court agreed that the department can
proceed with winding down the Yucca project responsibly while the
litigation proceeds so as not to needlessly waste taxpayer money."
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the repository's leading opponent,
said the DOE "will resume shutting down the Yucca Mountain Project
almost immediately." "Billions of taxpayer dollars have already
been wasted on this project, and ... (the) decision will allow DOE
to cut its losses now rather than later," he said.
A half-dozen petitioners, including the states of Washington
and South Carolina, have charged in federal lawsuits that the DOE
does not have the authority to end the Yucca program without
legislation from Congress.
Arguments on those lawsuits are scheduled to be held in
September in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of
Columbia Circuit. Separately, an arm of the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission has scheduled two days of hearings on the issue in
In the meantime, Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna
petitioned the court of appeals to issue an injunction freezing
the Yucca shutdown until the cases are heard.
McKenna argued that the Department of Energy was gutting a
skilled work force and dismantling the repository site, 100 miles
northwest of Las Vegas. With each of these moves, the attorney
general said, it would be that much more difficult to restore the
Yucca program if the court decides ultimately that the repository
should remain an option for handling the nation's high-level
In a brief order, the court rejected the motion, saying
Washington state did not show it would suffer "irreparable injury"
if the DOE was not stopped in its tracks at this time.
Andy Fitz, a senior counsel in the Washington attorney
general's office, said the state remains hopeful it will prevail
when the judges hear the full case. The Department of Energy and
Reid are moving to complete the termination this year, with Reid,
the Senate majority leader, looking to zero out all Yucca funding.