Download this Paper Open PDF in Browser

U.S. Nuclear Waste Law and Policy: Fixing a Bankrupt System

44 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2009 Last revised: 20 Aug 2009

Richard B. Stewart

New York University School of Law


The current U.S. system of nuclear waste law and policy is bankrupt. Twenty years after the designation by Congress of Yucca Mountain as the only potential site for a deep geologic repository to receive spent nuclear fuel and high level waste from reprocessing, the proposed Yucca repository remains mired in controversy and unremitting opposition by Nevada. There is no prospect for an alternative repository or for the development of a federal consolidated storage facility. The volume of these wastes already exceeds the current maximum storage capacity set by Congress for Yucca and continues to grow. This article first provides a brief overview of nuclear wastes and a summary history of federal nuclear waste law and policy to date. It then diagnoses the major failures in the current design and proposes a suite of new measures to launch a comprehensive new approach, including a reconsideration of the ethical principles underlying the drive for immediate waste burial; the creation of a high-level National Waste Management Commission; the creation of two new federal entities to manage nuclear wastes and to site waste storage facilities and repositories; the elimination of Environmental Protection Agency regulatory authority over these activities; the adoption of a thoroughgoing risk-based approach to waste regulation and management; and the adoption of new, more flexible and adaptable strategies for siting storage and disposal facilities.

Suggested Citation

Stewart, Richard B., U.S. Nuclear Waste Law and Policy: Fixing a Bankrupt System. NYU Environmental Law Journal, Vol. 17, No. 1, 2008; Breaking the Logjam: Environmental Reform for the New Congress and Administration Paper; NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 09-28; NYU Law and Economics Research Paper No. 09-22. Available at SSRN:

Richard B. Stewart (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
Room 411F
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States
212-992-8165 (Phone)
212-995-4590 (Fax)

Paper statistics

Abstract Views