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NRC sets June 1 deadline for Yucca Mountain decision

WASHINGTON — The leaders of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Friday set a June 1 deadline for decisions whether to allow for the termination of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site, a move that could speed the shutdown of the controversial project.

The order issued by the nuclear safety commission puts the Yucca case on a fast track, said an attorney working on the issue. Between now and June, administrative law judges who work within the NRC will consider whether to allow the Department of Energy to withdraw the Nevada project from the agency’s docket.

“This speeds things up. This is an expedited decision schedule,” said Marty Malsch, an attorney representing Nevada in the case. “We want to keep the ball rolling.”

The order was viewed as a win for the Department of Energy and also for the state of Nevada. Both have called for timely decisions on the DOE termination plan in the hopes of having the long-disputed repository program gone this year.

A handful of parties including the states of Washington and South Carolina are challenging the DOE. Allowing for a widely expected appeal to NRC leaders from whoever loses the June decision, a final outcome might emerge by midsummer, Malsch said. Beyond that, he said, the matter is likely to be taken up in federal court.

The panel of administrative judges who make up the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board had wanted to delay NRC decisions on Yucca Mountain until a federal court could weigh legal challenges to the DOE shutdown.

But in a 4-0 vote, the commissioners who head the nuclear safety agency ordered the judges to get back to work and issue a decision by June 1.

The commissioners said the NRC shouldn’t be sitting on the sidelines while courts take up an issue that is clearly within the agency’s purview. The said federal judges might benefit from the NRC’s input.

The board’s five-page order appears to put the agency on an assured course to decide the fate of the nuclear waste project the Obama administration wants to bring to an end.

“We welcome today’s NRC decision and continue to believe that our motion to withdraw the NRC license application should be decided promptly by the NRC and its administrative board,” DOE spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller said.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Obama administration and the DOE “have all the authority they need to withdraw the license application and put an end to this dangerous project.” Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., called it “one more victory in our effort to dump Yucca Mountain.”

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.

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