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October 21, 2014

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With rehearing of Yucca Mountain case denied, state unlikely to appeal to Supreme Court

Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it doesn’t have enough money to pursue licensing, but state will wait to see how agency proceeds

Yucca Mountain

The U.S. Energy Department plans to store spent nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain, an extinct volcano about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

The state likely won't appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in its efforts to block the Yucca Mountain nuclear dump site being located in Southern Nevada.

Marta Adams, chief deputy attorney general, said Wednesday she was disappointed but not surprised that the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., refused this week to grant a rehearing on its decision to order licensing hearings for Yucca Mountain to proceed.

South Carolina and Washington — which have nuclear power plants that are compiling high levels of nuclear waste — sued the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to force it to consider the application of the U.S. Department of Energy to designate Yucca Mountain as the burial site for nuclear waste. The regulatory commission had stopped working on licensing because it claims it does not have enough money to complete the process.

The appeals court, in a 2-1 decision, ruled that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must resume studying the application to put the dump in Nevada.

Nevada had asked for a rehearing in which all 10 judges sit on the case, but that was denied.

“It’s not likely we will pursue a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court,” Adams said, adding that the Supreme Court rarely grants these petitions.

Adams said the state will wait to see what the regulatory commission will do with its limited funds.

Robert Halstead, head of Nevada’s Agency for Nuclear Projects, told a legislative committee earlier this month that the federal commission has $11 million in its budget but will have to spend about $100 million for the hearings and to make a decision.

Adams said there is no estimate at this time how much more money the state will need to fight against the high-level dump.

Halstead said only that the state has $2.3 million available and told the Interim Finance Committee that additional money will be needed. He said $15 billion has already been spent drilling a 5-mile tunnel, but 41 miles more is needed for the burial site. He estimated the final government cost at $95 billion to $100 billion.

Nye County has sided with those who favor the repository, believing it will bring economic benefits to the area.

There is a bill before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that would allow states to voluntarily accept the waste for burial. No action has been taken on that proposed legislation.

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