Wall Street Journal
March 17, 2010

State Regulators Urge Obama to Reconsider Yucca Mountain

By Ian Talley

WASHINGTON—The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners is urging the Obama administration to reconsider its decision to withdraw its Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository license.

NARUC Tuesday filed a petition with the Department of Energy contesting the administration's decision, asking to have a say in the administrative proceedings before the Department of Energy's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board.

The regulators said the dismissal of the Yucca Mountain application will significantly undermine the government's ability to fulfill its outstanding obligation to dispose of the nuclear waste.

"Dismissal at this late stage, in the absence of any rational explanation or record-based findings to justify it, is an incredible waste of the billions in rate-payer dollars spent on the licensing proceeding to date," the commissioners said in the filing.

They warned that rate-payers across the nation would foot the bill and the decision "will effectively delay DOE's ability to finally begin to accept waste for at least 25 years."

In a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu earlier this month, NARUC said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission "must have the opportunity to evaluate the application in full."

The DOE wasn't immediately able to comment.

The legal petition is another complication in the long-running political scrap over the nuclear waste repository in Nevada. Democrats, such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), have fought to halt the multi-billion dollar project. With the project suffering from years of delay, billions in liabilities and a raft of legal challenges, many in the nuclear industry say the license withdrawal adds another dimension to the uncertainty plaguing the sector.

Republicans, including former Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) say the White House's decision was purely political. In hearings on Capitol Hill, Mr. Chu has been pressured to present the scientific basis legally required for the administrative withdrawal. Mr. Chu didn't provide lawmakers with the scientific basis for the administration's decision.

As recently as late last year, the DOE Web site said 20 years of research and billions of dollars-worth of scientific work found that the Yucca Mountain repository "brings together the location, natural barriers, and design elements most likely to protect the health and safety of the public."

That site has since been edited and Mr. Chu has defended his agency's decision. In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, the Energy Secretary said "the whole history of Yucca Mountain was more political than scientific," but added, "very truthfully I can say that given what we know today, the repository looks less and less good."

Meanwhile, the White House announced a blue ribbon panel to recommend nuclear waste alternatives. Although the panel's supposed to remain politically agnostic in its recommendations, administration officials have made it clear they don't want it to consider Yucca Mountain or any site as an alternative. Rather, advice should focus on non site-specific solutions.

NARUC has asked to contribute to the blue ribbon commission's proceedings, pointing to the fact that rate-payers had paid more than $16 billion into the Nuclear Waste Fund for the repository.

Write to Ian Talley at ian.talley@dowjones.com