The Department of Energy (DOE) has been trying to close the Yucca mountain storage site, but South Carolina and Washington, both facing the challenges of storing growing numbers of spent nuclear fuel rods, have tried almost everything to maintain access to the dump.

On Friday, the US Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. threw out their case, ruling that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is the ultimate the authority on deciding the fate of the storage facility.

Like a recent Supreme Court decision about the role of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in implementing greenhouse gas emissions policies, the Friday ruling reaffirmed the role of federal regulators–in this case the NRC–to call the shots on energy policy. But, similar to the EPA case, the judicial ruling added that states do have the right to take federal agencies to court when they believe regulators there have failed to do their job.

“We will not permit an agency to insulate itself from judicial review by refusing to act,” the court said in its ruling.

On Thursday, Senator Lisa Murkwosi (R-AK), who is also ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, introduced a bill to open two temporary storage sites for spent rods.

“This proposal addresses one of the most glaring failures of our national nuclear policy–what to do with nuclear fuel currently that is currently being stored at over 100 sites across the country,” Murkowski said.

The federal government, she said, is responsible for finding a long-term solution for nuclear waste storage.

Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who co-sponsored the bill, said that nuclear power was among the country’s cleanest options for electricity generation and should be properly supported with the requisite storage sites.

“As we work to free our country from foreign energy, nuclear power is one of the strongest and cleanest tools in our energy toolbox to advance our energy security goals,” Landrieu said.

Recycling nuclear fuel, following international practice, has also been suggested as a mechanism for reducing the pressure on regulators to find a long-term solution for nuclear fuel quickly. Advocates for nuclear power, including former EPA Administrator and New Jersey Governor Christie Todd Whitman, say that while a long-term solution is required the scale of the storage problem is often miscast and that the total volume of storage and the potential for radiation exposure are exaggerated in discussions about nuclear policy.

Photo: Early morning light shines on Yucca Mountain.