A U.S. appeals court on Friday canceled a license granted by a federal agency to a company to build a temporary nuclear waste storage facility in western Texas, which the Republican-led state has argued would be dangerous to build in one of the nation’s largest oil basins.
A three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission lacked the authority under federal law to issue permits for private, temporary nuclear waste storage sites.
The license, which was issued in 2021 to project developer Interim Storage Partners LLC, was challenged by Texas as well as west Texas oil and gas interests that opposed the facility.
U.S. Circuit Judge James Ho, writing for the court, agreed with Texas that the Atomic Energy Act does not give the agency the broad authority “to license a private, away-from-reactor storage facility for spent nuclear fuel.”
Ho, an appointee of Republican President Donald Trump, said a license for that kind of a facility also conflicts with a U.S. law called the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which prioritizes permanent storage solutions and otherwise allows temporary storage of nuclear waste only at reactors themselves or at federal sites.
Representatives for the NRC, Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s office and the developer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Abbott and other state officials had petitioned the court in 2021 to review the order by the agency authorizing Interim Storage Partners to receive and store up to 5,000 metric tons of spent fuel and about 230 metric tons of low-level radioactive waste for 40 years at a planned repository in Andrews County, Texas.
Abbott opposed the plan, saying he would not let Texas become “America’s nuclear waste dumping ground.”
The plan for a temporary facility was devised in order to address a growing nuclear waste problem in the United States. The Andrews County site was chosen after efforts to build a permanent storage facility in Nevada fell apart amid fierce local opposition.