The U.S. Department of Energy says Aiken County can't sue over the closing of Yucca Mountain because the nuclear waste disposal facility's demise is not final, according to a court filing.
DOE, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and a handful of other agencies responded Friday to Aiken County's suit filed last month in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
The county is seeking a temporary restraining order against plans to terminate the Nevada site. County council members were unanimous in their opinion that they needed to intervene, and quickly.
The response states that Aiken County has not "made any arguments as to the merits" of the license application for Yucca Mountain itself. The response says "there is no reason to believe that DOE cannot adequately present its reasons for justifying this course of action."
Nevada has supported DOE's efforts to withdraw the site application and submitted its own petition arguing that it will be harmed if the repository moves forward.
Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, was being designed to accommodate radioactive material stored at 121 temporary sites in 39 states, including SRS, where high-level wastes are stored in steel cylinders that were to be shipped elsewhere. It also would have housed 70,000 tons of waste from the nation's 104 commercial reactors, which are generating about 2,000 additional tons of spent fuel each year. President Obama's 2011 budget does not include funding for the facility, which has been in the works for more than 25 years.
County council member Scott Singer said the response was expected and council had already discussed a possible rebuttal, but no special meetings have been called to discuss the suit further.
"I think we have the moral high ground on this one, and hopefully the judge's response will be satisfactory and beneficial," he said.
A 15-member blue-ribbon panel, led by former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, was assembled earlier this month to explore alternatives. The panel is scheduled to make its first series of recommendations in fall 2011.
Aiken County has until April 5 to file a response with the court of appeals.