The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) must not make final licensing decisions until it has completed a rulemaking action on the environmental impacts of highly radioactive nuclear waste in the form of spent, or ‘used’, reactor fuel storage and disposal, as required under the landmark Waste Confidence Rule decision of June 8th by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, according to a petition filed today by 22 groups and 2 individuals.
This petition is to ensure that the environmental analysis directed by the Court is meaningfully incorporated into the licensing of nearly 35 reactors in a number of states.
The groups maintain that the NRC should not finalize its licensing decisions until it satisfies its environmental review obligations under federal law in relation to the following reactors: Callaway Plant, Unit 1, MO; Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant, Unit 3, MD; Fermi Nuclear Power Plant, Unit 3, MI; William States Lee III Nuclear Station, Units 1 and 2, SC; Grand Gulf Nuclear Station Unit 1 & 2, MS; Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station, Unit 1, OH; Turkey Point, Units 6 and 7, FL; Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant, Units 3 and 4, TX; Seabrook Station, Unit 1, NH; Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, Units 1 and 2, CA; Bell Bend Nuclear Power Plant, PA; Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant, Units 2 and 3, NC; Levy County Nuclear Power Plant, Units 1 and 2, FL; South Texas Project, Units 1, 2, 3 and 4, TX; Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant, Units 3 and 4, AL; Watts Bar, Unit 2, TN; and North Anna, Unit 3, VA.
The groups also asked the NRC to establish procedures for ensuring that members of the public can comment on the environmental analysis and raise site-specific concerns about the environmental impacts of highly radioactive spent nuclear reactor fuel in individual licensing cases. Importantly, this petition is not a request to halt or suspend all or any licensing proceedings.
Petitioners do not demand any change in the schedules for the NRC Staff’s review of reactor license applications in pending reactor licensing cases. This petition seeks the suspension of final licensing decisions only, pending the NRC’s completion of the work directed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.
The groups are still analyzing the implications of the court’s far-reaching decision for recently completed NRC licensing actions such as the proposed Vogtle and V.C. Summer reactors.
Diane Curran, an attorney representing some of the groups in the Court of Appeals case, said: “The groups filing this petition represent neighbors of nuclear reactors around the country. Many of them are currently participating in NRC licensing cases for new or existing reactors. Among the many individual petitioners are neighbors of existing or proposed reactors who would have participated in NRC licensing proceedings had they not been barred from raising their concerns about spent fuel storage and disposal by the Commission rules that were struck down by the court. By joining together, they seek to ensure that the environmental analyses ordered by the U.S. Court of Appeals will be fully applied in each reactor licensing case before operation is permitted, and that they will be given a meaningful opportunity to participate in the decision-making process.”
Former NRC Commissioner Peter Bradford said: “By telling the naked emperor to go get dressed, the Court has delivered an overdue rebuke to the NRC’s bad habit of pushing for the nuclear power plants while postponing the problems, as we now know the Japanese to have done at Fukushima. It’s hard to see how federal and state officials can justify putting more taxpayer or customer money at risk on new reactor projects until this situation is resolved.”
“We are part of this important effort to ensure that local communities and the public finally have the ability to raise important concerns about the risks associated with radioactive waste and subsequent storage at nuclear plants across the Southeast,” said Sara Barczak, High Risk Energy Choices program director with Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, one of the petitioners to the Court. “The Court agreed with us that it’s long overdue for these serious impacts to finally be evaluated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and shared with the public. Now we’re just making sure that’ll happen–that communities will have a voice.”
Lou Zeller, Executive Director of Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, another petitioner to the Court, said: “For years we have had no confidence in NRC’s assertions about nuclear waste and we have not been silent about it. Finally, the courts have agreed with us. We look forward to injecting some sanity into the debate on nuclear waste.”
On June 8th, the Court rejected the Waste Confidence Rule, which has been an essential component of all NRC decisions to license new reactors or re-license existing reactors for additional 20-year terms. In vacating the rule, the Court directed that the NRC comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and conduct a thorough environmental analysis of radioactive spent fuel storage and disposal issues.
The groups contend that federal law requires the NRC to suspend its final reactor licensing decisions while it determines what environmental effects could occur if the NRC’s decades-long search for a radioactive nuclear waste repository for spent nuclear reactor fuel never materializes. The impacts of storing highly-radioactive spent fuel at reactors across the country has for decades essentially not been analyzed during individual reactor licensing cases. The recent Court decision would now require the NRC to finally analyze what are likely to be significant impacts.
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League are joined by the following additional petitioners before the NRC:
Beyond Nuclear, Inc. (intervenor in Fermi COL proceeding, Calvert Cliffs COL proceeding, and Davis-Besse license renewal proceeding; potential intervenor in Grand Gulf COL and Grand Gulf license renewal proceedings);
Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Inc. and chapters (“BREDL”) (intervenor in Bellefonte COL proceeding and North Anna COL proceeding; previously sought intervention in W.S. Lee COL proceeding);
Citizens Allied for Safe Energy, Inc. (former intervenor in Turkey Point COL proceeding);
Citizens Environmental Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Inc. (intervenor in Fermi COL proceeding and Davis-Besse license renewal proceeding);
Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination (intervenor in Fermi COL proceeding);
Don’t Waste Michigan, Inc. (intervenor in Fermi COL proceeding and Davis-Besse license renewal proceeding);
Ecology Party of Florida (intervenor in Levy COL proceeding);
Eric Epstein (potential intervenor in Bell Bend COL proceeding);
Friends of the Earth, Inc. (potential intervenor in reactor licensing proceedings throughout U.S.);
Friends of the Coast, Inc. (intervenor in Seabrook license renewal proceeding);
Green Party of Ohio (intervenor in Davis-Besse license renewal proceeding);
Dan Kipnis (intervenor in Turkey Point proceeding);
National Parks Conservation Association, Inc. (intervenor in Turkey Point COL proceeding);
Mark Oncavage (intervenor in Turkey Point COL proceeding);
Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Inc. (Petitioner in Callaway license renewal proceeding; intervenor in suspended Callaway COL proceeding)
New England Coalition, Inc. (intervenor in Seabrook license renewal proceeding);
North Carolina Waste Reduction and Awareness Network, Inc. (admitted as an Intervenor in now-closed Shearon Harris COL proceeding);
Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Inc. (intervenor in Calvert Cliffs COL proceeding and Levy COL proceeding);
Public Citizen, Inc. (intervenor in South Texas COL proceeding; admitted as intervenor in now-closed Comanche Peak COL proceeding; potential intervenor in South Texas license renewal proceeding);
San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, Inc. (intervenor in Diablo Canyon license renewal proceeding);
Sierra Club, Inc. (Michigan Chapter) (intervenor in Fermi COL proceeding);
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Inc. (intervenor in Watts Bar Unit 2 OL proceeding, Turkey Point COL proceeding, Bellefonte COL proceeding; former intervenor in Bellefonte CP proceeding);
Southern Maryland CARES, Inc. (Citizens Alliance for Renewable Energy Solutions) (intervenor in Calvert Cliffs COL proceeding);
Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (“SEED”) Coalition, Inc. (intervenor in South Texas COL proceeding; admitted as intervenor in now-closed Comanche Peak COL proceeding; potential intervenor in South Texas license renewal proceeding).
The NRC has set a precedent for suspending its final licensing decisions while it reviews spent fuel storage and disposal impacts. In the re-licensing case for the Indian Point reactors near Manhattan, the NRC promised in 2010 that it would not re-license the reactors until it completed its pending waste confidence rulemaking. Now that the Court has vacated the Waste Confidence Rule, the NRC must continue to refrain from final re-licensing decisions until it finishes an expanded environmental analysis.
On June 8th, the Court threw out the NRC rule that permitted licensing and re-licensing of nuclear reactors based on the supposition that (a) the NRC will find a way to dispose of spent reactor fuel to be generated by reactors at some time in the future when it becomes “necessary” and (b) in the mean time, spent fuel can be stored safely at reactor sites.
The Court noted that, after decades of failure to site a repository, including twenty years of working on the now-abandoned Yucca Mountain repository, the NRC “has no long-term plan other than hoping for a geologic repository.” Therefore it is possible that spent fuel will be stored at reactor sites “on a permanent basis.” Under the circumstances, the NRC must examine the environmental consequences of failing to establish a repository when one is needed.
The Court also rejected NRC’s decision minimizing the risks of leaks or fires in spent fuel stored in reactor pools during future storage, because the NRC had not demonstrated that these future impacts would be insignificant. The Court found that past experience with pool leaks was not an adequate predictor of future experience. It also concluded that the NRC had not shown that catastrophic pool fires were so unlikely that their risks could be ignored.