2013 Legislature: Upcoming court ruling could restart Yucca licensing, forcing request for bigger budget
The head of the state Nuclear Projects Office warned Senate Finance members on Tuesday that at least $9 million a year will be needed to resume a legal battle if a federal court orders resumption of the stalled licensing process for the proposed Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste dump north of Las Vegas.The process before the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission is on hold because the Obama administration cut funding that the Department of Energy would need to push for licensing of the dump. While the DOE has moved to withdraw the license application, the U.S. District Court is considering a suit by South Carolina, Washington state and Nye County, Nev., to force resumption of the licensing hearings.“We are prepared for resumption of this licensing proceeding,” Bob Halstead told Finance members. But he added his requested agency budget of less than $4 million over the next two fiscal years won’t cover legal and expert witness costs if that happens.Halstead said the state can expect about $4 million a year from the federal government but would have to come up with the other $5 million a year for an estimated four years if licensing hearings go forward. He said he expects a decision from the court in that case before the end of the 2013 Legislature and will keep lawmakers advised if he needs more funding.“It is critical the Agency for Nuclear Projects be funded at an adequate level to carry out its responsibilities and successfully challenge the Yucca Mountain application,” he said.Senate Finance Chairman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, agreed, saying, “The main issue for us is whether you have enough money to defend ourselves.”Halstead said Nevada’s legal team and experts are ready to go if the court rules against the state and the Obama administration.“We have basically been preparing so that at a moment’s notice we have the initial motions we would need to file with the NRC, prioritizing the contentions we would proceed with,” he said.Halstead said Nevada’s legal case is strong, especially since the burden of proof that the dump would be safe is on the shoulders of the applicant, not Nevada.The DOE began studying Yucca Mountain in 1978 to determine whether it would be suitable for the nation’s first long-term geologic repository for over 70,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste currently stored at 121 sites around the nation. An estimated 10,000 metric tons of the waste would be from America’s military nuclear programs.