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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 13, 2010
Washington files suit to protect options in nuclear waste disposal

Olympia - Attorney General Rob McKenna today announced Washington has filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to prevent the federal Department of Energy (DOE) from irrevocably terminating the Yucca Mountain radioactive waste repository by withdrawing “with prejudice” its license application for the repository. DOE’s action would unilaterally and forever preclude any further consideration of Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository.

“The people of the Tri-Cities did their part to help our country fight World War II and the Cold War—and the federal government should honor that sacrifice,” McKenna said. “The Department of Energy’s move to permanently remove Yucca Mountain as a potential nuclear waste repository — with no identified alternative — significantly sets back cleanup at Hanford and puts our people and our environment at risk.”

Washington’s lawsuit follows its motion to intervene in the licensing proceeding before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (NRC). Last week, the NRC issued an order putting the licensing proceeding on hold until three similar cases already filed in the appeals court are resolved. Filing the lawsuit is Washington’s next step in protecting its interests and ensuring that the Yucca Mountain site continues to be evaluated as Congress directed.

Congress designated Yucca Mountain as the nation’s sole current repository site for deep geologic disposal of high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel in 2002 then directed DOE to file a license application for the Yucca Mountain site with the NRC.

In its lawsuit, Washington argues DOE’s decision to “irrevocably terminate the Yucca Mountain project in favor of an unknown and yet-to-be identified alternative” violates:

  • The Nuclear Waste Policy Act which required the agency to submit its licensing application upon Congress approving Yucca Mountain as a repository;
  • The National Environmental Policy Act which requires federal agencies to prepare an environmental impact study with alternatives for all “major federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment,” such as irrevocably terminating the  Yucca Mountain project with no alternative at hand; and
  • The Administrative Procedures Act because DOE “decisions and actions in terminating the Yucca Mountain project in favor of an unknown … alternative, including its … cryptic assertion that Yucca Mountain is ‘not a workable option’ … is arbitrary and capricious.”

The state asks the court to issue a permanent injunction requiring DOE to continue to fulfill its obligations with respect to the Yucca Mountain project and prohibiting the NRC from hearing or granting DOE’s motion to withdraw its license application.

“Congress selected Yucca Mountain as the nation’s repository and government has spent roughly $10 billion on the project,” McKenna said. “As we indicated previously, the nation has no ready alternatives to deep geologic disposal nor does it have any ready alternatives to Yucca Mountain as a repository site.

 “In taking this legal action, we continue to staunchly defend the interests of Washington in retaining a potential repository for the millions of gallons of high-level radioactive waste our state currently houses,” he continued. “DOE simply does not have the authority to unilaterally and forever terminate the Yucca Mountain project with no alternatives and no valid reason.”

In a separate motion, the state requested a preliminary injunction to prevent DOE from taking any further action to terminate or dismantle operations at Yucca Mountain until the court has an opportunity to rule on the merits of the state’s lawsuit.

Background:

  • Between 1944 and 1989, the United States produced plutonium for use in nuclear weapons at DOE’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation in the Tri-Cities.
  • Washington hosts and oversees the cleanup of nearly two-thirds of the nation’s defense-related, high-level radioactive waste at Hanford.
  • Roughly 53 million gallons of nuclear waste is stored in 177 large underground tanks, of which 149 are 42 years beyond their expected 25-year design life. Of the 149 tanks, more than one-third are known or suspected to have leaked, releasing roughly 1 million gallons of waste to Hanford’s surrounding soils.
  • Hanford lacks the storage capacity to retrieve the waste from the majority of these tanks until the waste treatment and disposal process is underway.
  • Washington’s $12.3 billion Waste Treatment Plant continues to be designed and constructed to meet standards specific to the Yucca Mountain facility. Design and engineering for the plant is 78 percent complete and construction is 48 percent complete.
  • In a worst-case scenario, termination of the Yucca Mountain repository could result in the need to tear down and rebuild portions of the plant to implement design and engineering changes to meet another repository’s waste acceptance criteria. This would result in significant costs and delays in Hanford’s entire tank waste clean-up mission.

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Contacts:  Janelle Guthrie, Communications Director, (360) 586-0725

 
 

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