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Nuclear storage facility at Yucca Mountain moves forward after court ruling

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Nevada's Yucca Mountain was chosen over 25 years ago to house the first and only long-term storage facility for the United States' nuclear waste, but a series of holdups including a complete stoppage of the project in 2010 have meant that the location is yet to be converted — or even fully approved — for its designated purpose. But on Wednesday, a US appellate court ruled that the plan had to be put back into motion, and that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) must continue reviewing whether the mountain is an appropriate location to safely hold nuclear waste for over 1 million years.

"$11 million is wholly insufficient"

But the ruling may only be a symbolic step forward. The NRC only has $11.1 million remaining in its budget for reviewing the government's application to use Yucca Mountain, and as the court writes, "$11 million is wholly insufficient to complete the processing of the application." The NRC hasn't said how much it'll need, but the US government believes that, overall, $15 billion has already been put toward the project. Whether Congress is willing to fund it further remains up in the air. The court notes that the NRC originally ended its review due to lack of funding, and that "Congress, of course, is under no obligation to appropriate additional money."

Yucca Mountain's holdup could spell problems for the US government. According to ABC News, a 1982 law put the government in charge of handling waste from nuclear power plants to ensure that it was properly disposed of. Those power plants have been paying the government in exchange for the service, but the government hasn't been able to fully hold up its end of the deal. Nuclear facilities have filed lawsuits to recover lost funds because of this, and Representative Lisa Murkowski says the lawsuits have already led to nearly $3 billion in damages.