A top appeals #court on Tuesday ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to resume study of the long-stalled Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.
In a 2-1 decision that's both legally and politically significant, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit determined that the NRC "has continued to violate the law governing the Yucca Mountain licensing process."
The ruling is a victory for South Carolina and Washington, which want Yucca Mountain as a resting spot for the nuclear waste now piling up in those states. It's a defeat, though probably not a definitive one, for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and other lawmakers who have fought to keep Yucca Mountain from opening.
More broadly, appellate court Judge Brett Kavanaugh observed, "this case has serious implications for our constitutional structure" because it involves questions of when executive and independent agencies can "disregard federal law."
The NRC has at least $11 million appropriated for the Yucca Mountain licensing work, the majority opinion by Kavenuagh noted. But though the statutory deadline for a licensing decision has "long since passed," Kavanaugh said, the commission has "simply shut down its review and consideration of the Department of Energy's license application."
"The commission is simply flouting the law," Kavanaugh wrote, adding that the NRC's inaction flouts the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
The original version of this post misspelled Kavanaugh's name.