Ninety-one members of Congress urged the Department of Energy on Tuesday to immediately halt work to dismantle the Yucca Mountain, Nev., nuclear repository.
They signed onto a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu written by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.
"We are deeply disappointed that the department has overstepped its bounds and has ignored congressional intent without peer review or proper scientific documentation in its actions regarding Yucca Mountain," the letter said.
Last week, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission legal panel ruled DOE could not withdraw its NRC application to license Yucca Mountain as the nation's repository for used nuclear power fuel and high-level defense waste. Hanford's irradiated fuel and high-level waste processed at the vitrification plant under construction have been expected to go to the repository.
"We are deeply troubled that the department continues to move forward with terminating the project regardless of this decision," the letter said.
The ruling was a clear statement that DOE does not have the authority under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to unilaterally terminate Yucca Mountain, the letter said. The act designated Yucca Mountain as the site for a national repository, making clear Congress' intent, it said.
The current administration has opposed proceeding with the repository after Barack Obama told Nevada voters the repository should not open as he campaigned for president. DOE also did not ask for money in the proposed 2011 federal budget to proceed with the repository and has moved to use money appropriated in the current fiscal year for licensing Yucca Mountain to instead bring the repository project to a close.
"We ask that you recognize the letter and spirit of the law, honor the timeline set by the court and halt all efforts to reprogram funds or terminate contracts related to Yucca Mountain," the letter said.
Earlier this year, Washington and South Carolina and a group of Tri-City Community leaders filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, questioning whether the Obama administration had the legal right to terminate the repository.
In May, the court denied a request by Washington state to prohibit DOE from continuing shutdown activities while the case was proceeding. However, the court has agreed to expedite the schedule for arguments in the case, which will be heard Sept. 23.
DOE and Nevada are expected to appeal the NRC legal panel ruling.
The letter was signed by 24 senators, two of them Democrats, and 67 representatives, 12 of them Democrats. Washington leaders signing the letter, in addition to Murray and Hastings, were Democratic Reps. Norm Dicks, Jay Inslee and Rick Larsen and Republican Reps. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers and David Reichert. Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican, also signed.