Some thought the idea of using Yucca Mountain that is 90-miles outside of Las Vegas as a permanent nuclear waste disposal site was, well, buried. Not so, now that a federal appeals court has ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to continue the licensing process.

Yucca Mountain

Yucca Mountain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The big question is whether the U.S. Congress will pony up so that those nuclear regulators can finish the job. Right now, the fund to continue the research has withered to just $11 million. Potentially wasting more money is one issue. So is “flouting the law,” which is what one of the judge’s said has been going on -- a slap in the face to “our constitutional system.” Congress authorized the study of this site back in 1987 and unless or until it pulls the plug on it, lawmakers must bankroll it and regulators must carry out their will.

“By making it a permanent repository, we opened the flood gates for every theory as to why not to do it,” says former Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, in a phone conversation with this reporter. “We have given critics and opponents the grounds on which to make their case. But centralizing a facility, as opposed to on-site situations, is a much safer approach. Settings in metropolitan areas are not safer than storing nuclear waste under a mountain that is 1,000 feet below the earth.”

Abraham, who is now the board chair for Corp., goes on to say that the “wiser approach” would have been to recommend a 250-year repository to store nuclear waste. Yucca Mountain, by comparison, is a 10,000-year site. Such a “compromise,” would be political feasible, he says, adding that national policy provides incentives to New Mexico to store low-level radioactive waste.

Abraham’s vision is similar to that of one by a blue ribbon commission appointed by the U.S. Department of Energy. That body, which crafted its positions two years ago, says that these decisions must be removed from the political realm and put into the hands of those who have the authority to take action. Best idea: Take the nuclear waste from the current interim storage facilities and move it into a series of regional repositories.

The political undertone: Since 1987, when Congress first approved the study of Yucca Mountain, the American people have contributed $31 billion -- a process in which the state of Nevada fully complied, and one in which it has received plenty of financial benefits. But the folks there -- and it’s hard to blame them -- don’t want 70,000 plus tons of nuclear waste in their backyard.

So, President Obama joined forces with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to “kill” Yucca Mountain in 2008. In 2009, Reid’s former staffer, Greg Jaczko, headed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Energy Department then nixed the licensing process in 2010.