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US: Compromise ruling in nuclear waste slap suit

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(December 4, 1997) Utilities in the United States are in trouble because the envisioned national spent fuel storage facility is still only a dream. On-site storage capacity is running out and their slap suit against the US Department of Energy (DOE) for the Department's inability to accept high level nuclear waste has failed in the Court of Appeals.

(482.4778) CMEP -The US Court of Appeals has ruled on a suit brought by the nuclear industry asking the Court to force the US Department of Energy to comply with the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. The Court's decision calls for a possible cash settlement by DOE but denied the utilities' demand that DOE begin shipments of highly irradiated nuclear waste by January 31, 1998. The Court also denied the right of utilities to escrow their Nuclear Waste Fund payments.

While the Court offered partial relief to the utilities, the same level of relief had already been offered by the DOE to the utilities before the slap suit was initiated. Nevertheless, the DOE argued that it has no obligation to negotiate monetary settlements for on-site storage reimbursement. The Court decision rebuked that claim and will likely result in monetary compensation of some form. But because the DOE had already publicly offered to settle and pay for on-site storage, the court settlement is no real victory for the nuclear industry. The industry, which has been touting the compromise settlement as a win, is clearly the loser: "This decision sends a clear message to the nuclear utilities that they cannot expect to hold this slap suit over Congress' head any longer," said Auke Piersma, Energy Policy Analyst with Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy Project in Washington, DC. "This is a victory for the American public, because it effectively puts an end to this slap suit, which was created only for political purposes."

"The President's veto promise is real, the Senate will protect it, and the Courts have spoken. It's time for the utilities to accept the sound, safe, and environmental choice. Temporary on-site storage is the best of the bad choices until we are fully prepared with real reasons to transport this deadly cargo." added Wenonah Hauter, Critical Mass Energy Project's Director.

Source: Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy Project, press release, 14 November 1997
Contact: Auke Piersma at Critical Mass Energy Project. Tel: +1-202-546 4996; Fax: +1-202-547 7392

On October 30, the US House of Representatives approved the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1997 (more popularly known as the 'Mobile Chernobyl Act' or HR 1270), providing for the construction of a spent fuel interim storage facility near Yucca Mountain in the Nevada desert. President Clinton has promised repeatedly that he will veto the measure; once vetoed, a bill needs a two-thirds majority vote to be overridden and become law. So it is important to put pressure on the representatives to support a Clinton veto. Yucca Mountain is also a projected site for final disposal. If the move to establish an interim facility nearby is successful, stopping the final facility would be virtually impossible. Ask what you can do to stop it! (NIRS, 31 October 1997)