The court will decide Yucca Mountain’s future, not the president
By Robert Ferguson
Note: This entry was originally scheduled for publication on March 16.
In February 2010, my colleagues and I, as private citizens, filed a lawsuit against President Barack Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu when the president directed the secretary to violate the provisions of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (NWPA).
The NWPA’s 1987 amendment designated Yucca Mountain, by law, as the only site approved for consideration as the nation’s nuclear waste repository, and we assert that only Congress has the authority to change the law. The act also requires that the licensing process for Yucca be completed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission before any decision can be made concerning its fate.
The president and secretary have ignored this law and attempted to withdraw the application from the NRC before it can deliver its final report.
President Obama’s actions also have betrayed his commitment to scientific integrity. His executive memorandum of March 9, 2009, stated, “The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions. Political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions . . . .”
The Department of Energy’s license application is based on 30-plus years of scientific studies. The NRC’s independent review would answer once and for all whether the site is scientifically suitable to store nuclear waste, yet President Obama and Secretary Chu want to withdraw this application and suppress the results of the review.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit consolidated our lawsuit with the lawsuits also filed by the states of Washington and South Carolina, and by Aiken County in South Carolina, against the DOE, Secretary
Chu, and the NRC to stop them from closing Yucca Mountain. If Yucca is terminated, these states will be forced to continue to store millions of gallons of high-level radioactive waste near major rivers. There are 37 other states that also store commercial used fuel and defense high-level waste facing the same uncertain fate.
The 111th Congress should have stepped in to stop the president from usurping its authority in this matter, but it did not; therefore, the D.C. Court of Appeals will decide whether the president and energy secretary have the authority to terminate the Yucca licensing process. Oral arguments took place March 22, 2011.
Robert Ferguson’s career in nuclear energy spans more than 50 years, beginning at General Electric, training and working on the Hanford Site’s nuclear reactors. He was responsible for building the Fast Flux Test Facility for the Atomic Energy Commission and then served as director of nuclear projects for the Energy Research and Development Agency. After that, he was appointed the Department of Energy’s Deputy assistant secretary for nuclear energy. Ferguson entered the commercial nuclear industry as chief executive officer for the Washington Public Power Supply System and built the Columbia nuclear power plant, still in operation in eastern Washington State. Ferguson is an ANS member.
On February 25, 2010, Ferguson and his colleagues, Bill Lampson, CEO of Lampson International, and Gary Petersen, president of Hanford Programs at the Tri-Cities Industrial Development Council in Kennewick, Wash., filed a lawsuit against President Barack Obama and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.