HOUSTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on Friday said it will seek comments on how to restart the licensing process for the long-stalled Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project.
The request is the agency's first response to a federal appeals court order issued August 13 that said the NRC can no longer delay a decision on whether to issue a permit for the project that would bury nuclear waste inside Yucca Mountain in the Nevada desert about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered the NRC to license the project or to reject the application.
Two states along with state regulators argued that the NRC must continue to work on the Energy Department's Yucca application even though the Obama administration has said it wants to abandon the project and Congress has not appropriated enough funds for it.
The NRC asked for comments to be filed by September 30, according to a news release. The commission is seeking the best way to use the remaining $11 million it has to resume the licensing process, which was suspended in September 2011, the agency said.
The commission directed its staff to gather budgeting information during the 30-day comment period. It will review the comments submitted by the parties as well as staff information to decide how to move forward with the licensing process.
Following the court ruling, the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry trade group, said it expects the agency to take steps to resume its independent scientific evaluation of the Yucca Mountain license application.
Electricity consumers "who have contributed nearly $35 billion in fees and interest to the federal government specifically for used nuclear fuel management, deserve to know whether Yucca Mountain is a safe site for the permanent disposal of used nuclear fuel," the NEI said.
The premature shutdown of five U.S. nuclear units at sites in four states also increases the need for a repository for spent nuclear fuel.
Exelon Corp, Duke Energy and Entergy Corp are the largest operators of nuclear plants in the U.S.
(Reporting by Eileen O'Grady in Houston; Editing by Ken Wills)