WASHINGTON — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been violating federal law by delaying a decision on a proposed nuclear waste dump in Nevada, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
By a 2-1 vote, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ordered the commission to complete the licensing process and approve or reject the Energy Department’s application for a waste site at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.
In a sharply worded opinion, the court said the nuclear agency was “simply flouting the law” when it allowed the Obama administration to continue plans to close the proposed waste site 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The action goes against a federal law designating Yucca Mountain as the nation’s nuclear waste repository.
“The president may not decline to follow a statutory mandate or prohibition simply because of policy objections,” Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh wrote in a majority opinion, which was joined Judge A. Raymond Randolph. Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland dissented in the case.
The Obama administration, under pressure from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, abandoned the project early in the president’s first term. In 2011, the NRC allowed the shutdown to stand, citing “budgetary limitations” imposed by Congress. The NRC is an independent agency that oversees commercial nuclear operations.
Reid, a Democrat, called the appeals court decision “fairly meaningless.” Congress has cut funding for Yucca and is unlikely to restore it, Reid said.