Nevada and counties split over ending Yucca

WASHINGTON — The state of Nevada and Clark County say the Department of Energy has the power to terminate the Yucca Mountain Project. A half dozen rural counties in the state say it does not.

Legal documents filed this week with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission provide a fresh picture of a split within Nevada over the nuclear waste plan that the Obama administration wants to end.

The commission has scheduled legal hearings for June 3 and 4 in Las Vegas over an Energy Department motion to withdraw a pending application to build a waste repository at the Yucca site, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The legal briefs provide a preview of arguments that will be fielded by a three-judge administrative panel.

The question is whether DOE has the authority to bring the project to an end without new legislation from Congress, which passed a law in 1987 that set a process for the site to be evaluated and licensed if it was found to be safe.

Attorneys for Nevada and for Clark County, where anti-repository sentiment has run high, argue that nothing in the law prevents DOE from withdrawing the project if it does not intend to build it.

“The DOE has the lawful authority to withdraw the license application and has elected to exercise that authority. This board must honor that decision,” said attorneys for Clark County.

Nye County, White Pine County and a consortium of Churchill, Esmeralda, Lander and Mineral counties argue there has been no final determination of the site’s suitability.

The rural counties, where the Yucca project has been viewed generally as an economic panacea, said Congress needs to change the law to end the project, and until then the Obama administration cannot act.

In White Pine County’s filing, District Attorney Richard Sears wrote that without an official act of Congress to withdraw the project, there is nothing that would prevent the next president from reversing President Barack Obama and “put Yucca Mountain back on the table again.”

“We are a nation governed by laws, not men,” Sears wrote.

Among other participants in the upcoming legal hearing, the state of California and the Joint Timbisha Shoshone Tribal Group said they side with the Department of Energy and Nevada.

The states of Washington and South Carolina, where high-level nuclear waste is stored, argued that the Energy Department legally cannot withdraw the project.

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