New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the lawsuit was meant "to keep the pressure on the federal government to come up with a long-term solution" to the problem of nuclear waste storage.
"I am committed to forcing the feds to take the hardest look possible at the risks of long-term, on-site storage, before they allow our communities to become blighted and our families, properties, and businesses threatened by radioactive waste dumps for generations to come," Schneiderman said.
President Obama is supporting construction of more nuclear plants as a way to fight dependence on foreign oil. But funding has been cut for a proposed high-level radioactive waste facility in Nevada, with no alternative named.
"You certainly can't proceed to expand nuclear power, as the federal government is proposing, without dealing with this issue," Schneiderman said.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruled in December that toxic nuclear waste could be stored in pools or dry casks at the nation's 100-plus nuclear sites for 60 years after a reactor shuts down. Until then, the limit was 30 years.
Commission spokesman Neil Sheehan said Tuesday that the NRC did numerous studies supporting the safety of such storage.
But the lawsuit, which was joined by Connecticut and Vermont and filed in Washington, said the NRC violated federal laws requiring a site-by-site review of health, safety and environmental hazards.
Schneiderman said the NRC ruling "essentially says they can just push off the issue about what to do about nuclear waste far, far into the future without ever conducting an environmental impact statement, without analyzing the effects on the communities around these facilities."
He said any studies the NRC did "don't comply with federal laws that govern environmental impact statements."
"I could say I conducted a study by wandering around the plant," Schneiderman added.
The lawsuit does not suggest a solution.
"We are not telling the federal government how to solve the problem," he said.
Schneiderman announced the lawsuit at a news conference in White Plains, N.Y, about 18 miles from the Indian Point nuclear plants in Buchanan. Nuclear waste storage is among the issues in Entergy Nuclear's fight to get new 20-year licenses for the Indian Point plants.
Schneiderman called Indian Point "perhaps the most dangerous facility in the country" because of its proximity to New York City.
"This is a problem for communities all across America. It is a particular problem in the densely populated area around Indian Point," he said.
But Schneiderman said he was not arguing for or against the new licenses.
"This is a case addressing a broader national issue about what we do with nuclear waste," he said.