Texas files lawsuit over licensing of Yucca Mountain

WASHINGTON — A lawsuit filed by Texas in an appellate court claims the federal government violated the law in failing to complete the licensing process for permanent storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Wednesday the lawsuit was filed in the New Orleans-based U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. It seeks an up or down vote by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on the Yucca Mountain site.

“For decades, the federal government has ignored our growing problem of nuclear waste,” Paxton said in a statement released in Austin.

“The NRC’s inaction on licensing Yucca Mountain subjects the public and the environment to potential dangerous risks from radioactive waste,” Paxton said. “We do not intend to sit quietly anymore.”

The lawsuit brought a swift rebuke by Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev.

She suggested the lawsuit was an attempt to divert attention from Paxton’s legal woes. He has a scheduled May court date on state charges that he misled investors when he was a state representative.

“I suggest the Texas attorney general spend more time concentrating on the serious charges he is facing for securities fraud and less time trying to distract voters of Texas by screwing the people of Nevada,” Titus said.

“Yucca Mountain remains a dead and failed proposal. Any attempt to spend billions on this boondoggle is bad science and wasted resources,” Titus said.

But Paxton claims that several federal agencies have violated the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act to provide a permanent repository for nuclear wastes generated by non-military reactors nationwide.

As of the end of 2014, more than 74,000 metric tons of nuclear waste were being temporarily stored at various facilities across the country, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Texas maintains that the 2012 deadline for a decision on making Yucca Mountain a permanent repository was ignored by the federal government.

President Barack Obama, at the behest of then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., withdrew funding for the licensing process, which effectively killed construction and development at the site, located about 90 miles north of Las Vegas.

Nevada officials, including Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and congressional delegation members oppose Yucca Mountain as a permanent storage facility. Eight rural counties, including Nye County where Yucca Mountain is located, want the licensing process to proceed.

Cortez Masto spokesman Rey Benitez said the senator is working with Sandoval and the congressional delegation “to fight against any dangerous schemes that would threaten the health and safety of Nevada families and waste taxpayers dollars.”

Bob Halstead with the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, said in a budget presentation in Carson City this week that the state will contest the Department of Energy licensing application to restart Yucca Mountain development.

Nevada is challenging site suitability, groundwater impact and transportation issues.

State officials estimate that the licensing process for Yucca Mountain would take an estimated four to five years at a cost to the Energy Department of $1.66 billion.

Paxton filed the lawsuit after former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was confirmed and sworn in as the new Energy secretary. During his confirmation hearing, Perry told the U.S. Senate he would not rule out Yucca Mountain as a permanent waste repository.

Texas has nuclear reactors southwest of Houston, which produces electricity for customers that include San Antonio and Austin.

Waste Control Specialists is seeking to store nuclear waste on a temporary basis at a site north of Odessa, Texas, in Andrews, County.

Paxton said because the federal government has failed to provide a permanent storage site, taxpayers have been “tagged” with the cost of temporary, above-ground storage.

He said taxpayers have paid $5.3 billion for temporary storage.

In the lawsuit, Paxton also is asking the court to stop the Energy Department from spending tax money on “consent-based” siting, a process that would allow states and localities that want to store nuclear waste, like Andrews County in Texas, to do so.

Titus filed a bill in the House this year that calls for the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future to implement a consent-based process for nuclear waste sites, ensuring hosts states, local governments and tribal communities have a say in the process.

Similar legislation was filed in the Senate by Heller and Cortez Masto.

Contact Gary Martin at 202-662-7390 or gmartin@reviewjournal.com. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.