Uranium producers, angry over what they consider unreasonable Nuclear Regulatory Commission standards for mill tailing sites, went to court to try to block the regulations. But although the NRC won the battle--a favorable decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals--it may not have won the war. Enter Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), whose state has the site of a uranium mill operated by Kerr-McGee Corp., the main litigant. He succeeded last week in getting the Senate to tack on to the NRC authorization bill an amendment suspending the current NRC's uranium mill licensing requirements. The issue must be resolved in a congressional conference.
Industry pressed its court case along two tracks. It said that the NRC can't issue the regs until the Environmental Protection Agency's overdue health, safety and environmental standards for mill tailing sites are out. It also argued that the NRC cannot constitutionally impose such regs without a finding of a significant risk, that the NRC exceeded its statutory authority, and that the standards were unreasonable. The court disagreed, finding the NRC was well within its authority. The court also said, "It would be contrary to the interests of the public to now declare that all uranium mill tailing regulations must come to a halt until such time as the EPA issues general regulations." Domenici's amendment would require EPA to issue proposed standards this year that take into account both costs and benefits, and would require the NRC to conform to EPA standards.