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Panel’s decision keeps Yucca Mountain alive

WASHINGTON — The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste plan remains alive, at least on paper, as a panel of administrative judges ruled Tuesday the Obama administration does not have the power to withdraw the project without permission from Congress.

The decision is a setback for the Department of Energy, which reversed its policy under President Barack Obama and has been moving to shut down the long-controversial Nevada project. DOE attorneys are expected to appeal the ruling.

Attorneys for Nevada, which has been seeking to kill the project for years, have said the state likely will join an appeal.

The ruling was rendered by a three-judge panel assembled by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, a branch of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It is expected that the full five-person NRC will hear appeals to the decision.

As part of the project termination, Energy Secretary Steven Chu had petitioned the NRC to withdraw a 17-volume application for a license to build out the Yucca site, 100 miles northwest or Las Vegas.

The licensing board said no.

“We deny DOE’s motion to withdraw the application,” the judges said at the outset of a 53-page ruling. “The Nuclear Waste Policy Act (that established the project) does not give the secretary (of energy) the discretion to substitute his policy for the one established by Congress …”

As a result of the ruling, the project remained alive, at least on paper. The Obama administration has sought no funding from Congress to continue and has been moving ahead to offer new jobs or lay off the few dozen people who remain in the project in Las Vegas and Washington.

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

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