A court decision issued Tuesday brings new uncertainty to whether nuclear materials on a Gloucester County site will be shipped to Utah or kept in place.
The ruling from a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. ,sent the question back to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The Commission had ruled in 2011 that New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection would be in charge of the cleanup at site in Newfield where Shieldalloy Metallurgical Corp. made metal alloys from 1955 until 1998. The process had a radioactive byproduct.
What to do with the leftover material has been the subject of litigation and regulatory battles for a decade.
New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection has stricter regulations for handling of the nuclear slag than the federal government does. The NRC agreed they should apply.
The state is seeking to have the material shipped to Utah for disposal.
That option would be more costly for Shieldalloy, a subsidiary of Wayne, Pa.-based Metallurg Holdings, Inc., and the company says it's more dangerous.
The latest ruling does not settle the question. Senior Circuit Judge Stephen F. Williams wrote in the majority opinion that the NRC needs to "explain itself in a way that rationally addresses the concerns" and found its decision to hand the matter off to the state to be "arbitrary and capricious," but could still decide to give authority to New Jersey regulators.
In an opinion that partially concurs and partially dissents, Judge Judith W. Rogers found the NRC's decision was not arbitrary.