Vogtle nuclear foes get their day in federal appeals court

One of the attorneys for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) would not speculate Nov. 19 on when a federal appeals court might rule  on its challenge to Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)’s approval of two nuclear reactors now under construction in Georgia.

“Sorry, no idea,” Washington, D.C., attorney Diane Curran said in an email a few hours after helping argue the BREDL appeal of the combined construction and operating license (COL) for Vogtle 3 and 4. “It could be a couple months or a year or more,” Curran said.

The attorney was responding to an email from GenerationHub.

Curran was one of the lawyers representing nine advocacy groups who tried to convince a three-judge panel for the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that NRC erred when it issued a license for two new reactors at the Vogtle nuclear power plant near Waynesboro, Ga.

The groups claim NRC failed to fully take into account the potential for a Fukushima-like disaster.

Early this year, the NRC approved Vogtle Units 3 and 4, the first two nuclear reactors approved by NRC in more than 30 years. The project is being led by Southern (NYSE: SO) subsidiary Georgia Power and several Georgia-based public power organizations.

BREDL and the other litigants are challenging both the new nuclear plant license and NRC’s approval of the updated Westinghouse Electric AP 1000 reactor design, which is being used at the project.

Southern Co., the City of Dalton, Ga., and Westinghouse were intervenors and filed a brief but in the case but they did make an oral argument Nov. 19, Curran said.

As for BREDL and its partners, groups contend that before licensing the reactors or approving the underlying reactor design, the NRC should have supplemented the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This supplemental EIS would address the risk of a catastrophic accident such as the one that occurred at the six-reactor Fukushima Daiichi complex in Japan in the spring of 2011.  

NRC and pro-nuclear groups have said such a supplemental EIS would provide little benefit given that Vogtle 3 and 4, along with any other new reactors, will ultimately have to comply with any NRC rules on Fukushima anyway.

Unit 3 is scheduled to go online in 2016, and Unit 4 will follow in 2017.

BREDL suffered a defeat before the D.C. Circuit in February when it failed in an effort to block the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) ability to move forward with completion of the never-finished Bellefonte nuclear plant in Alabama.

In addition to BREDL, the groups bringing the appeal include: Friends of the Earth, Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Citizens Allied for Safe Energy, Center for a Sustainable Coast, Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions, North Carolina Waste Awareness Reduction Network (NC WARN), and Nuclear Watch South

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.