Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 to establish a deliberate, collaborative and mandatory process to site, license, build and operate a national permanent nuclear waste repository. The act obliges the federal government to safely dispose of high-level nuclear defense waste and commercial spent fuel from power plants. Electricity consumers and taxpayers have paid approximately $15 billion to determine if the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada would be a safe repository. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) owes them an answer.

Congress wrote and passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act with a sense of urgency so that the process would move forward without delay. The act set out an unambiguous schedule of up to four years following the filing of a license application for the NRC to conduct its review and issue a final decision. Recognizing that the repository siting and licensing process could be contentious, Congress had the foresight to provide for consolidated legal jurisdiction and expedited review at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.Congress' foresight has since been validated, and the repository licensing process has indeed proven to be contentious. After filing the license application in 2008, the Department of Energy later sought to withdraw the application to preclude any future consideration of the Yucca Mountain site. Subsequently, in 2010, the NRC chairman ordered agency staff to terminate their review and remove key findings from licensing reports documenting their safety review. Although the law mandated a four-year schedule to review the license, five years have elapsed, and the NRC has not issued a final decision.

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