The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on Tuesday rejected the federal government’s argument that it could use “unavoidable delay” as a defense in the long-running, multibillion-dollar litigation over its failure to pick up spent fuel from nuclear utilities.

In Nebraska Public Power District v. U.S., the en banc court, in an 11-1 ruling, held that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit did not lack jurisdiction in 1997 when it issued an order barring the Department of Energy from excusing its delay on grounds that it had not yet prepared a permanent repository or an interim storage facility. The D.C. Circuit had ruled that the government had an unconditional obligation to begin accepting nuclear waste in 1998 under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and contracts with the utilities.

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