Maybe the nuclear industry doesn't need a Yucca Mountain after all.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Tuesday that nuclear waste could safely be stored on site indefinitely. The new rule also lifted a two-year moratorium on new licensing.
The move was a response to a June 2012 U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decision that said the agency must revise the environmental and economic consequences of long-term waste storage because it "has no long-term plan other than hoping for a geologic repository."
That repository, under federal law, is supposed to be the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada. The Obama administration pulled the plug on reviewing that site in 2010.
A federal court said the NRC must make a decision whether to license it, but the agency says it doesn't have enough funding to finish the review. The Democratic-held Senate, led by Yucca opponent Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, isn't likely to give the NRC enough money to do so.
But Tuesday's ruling could pave the way for new licensing, which has been on hold since August 2012.
"The completion of this rulemaking is an important step that will facilitate final decisions on industry licensing actions pending before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission," said Ellen Ginsberg, vice president, secretary and general counsel for the Nuclear Energy Institute. Seven applications are under review.
Some environmental groups, however, were discouraged by the decision.
“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission failed to analyze the long-term environmental consequences of indefinite storage of highly toxic and radioactive nuclear waste, the risks of which are apparent to any observer of history over the past 50 years. The commission failed to follow the express directions of the court," said Geoffrey Fettus, lead counsel for the Natural Resources Defense Council in the federal court case.