The Senate has confirmed Bill Richardson, formerly UN ambassador, to head the Department of Energy after President Clinton notified legislators that his nominee would have the authority to negotiate an end to the impasse over spent fuel management. In a letter to the Senate, Clinton expressed a “commit[ment] to resolving the nuclear waste storage issue” once DOE’s assessment of Yucca Mountain, Nevada’s viability as the host of a permanent geologic repository is completed at year’s end. Richardson was also cleared of allegations that he had misled Congress on the Monica Lewinsky matter.
The Senate confirmation came as a group of 36 states asked the US Supreme Court to force the Department of Energy to remove tons of radioactive waste currently stored at nuclear power plants owned by electric utilities.
Lower federal courts have already ruled that DOE was obligated as of 31 January 1998 to start removing nuclear waste from where it is now stored, opening the way for utilities to sue for damages. But the lower courts have so far stopped short of specifying any action to force DOE to begin shipping the spent fuel.
The states urged the US Supreme Court to specify enforcement action, perhaps by placing fees utilities pay into the Nuclear Waste Fund for spent fuel management into an escrow account.
The lawsuit by the states is similar to one earlier this year by US utilities. Utilities have asked the court for permission to halt payments into the Nuclear Waste Fund if the DOE fails to act.
Although Richardson often took positions opposed by the US nuclear industry when he was a member of Congress, the industry urged him to work in tandem with it to devise a solution to the spent fuel management impasse.
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