D.C. Circuit upholds NRC handling of Limerick license renewal

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has upheld the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) handling of a 20-year license renewal for the Exelon (NYSE:EXC) Limerick nuclear plant.

The appeals court issued its ruling April 26. The case was argued in September 2015.

The NRC had the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) request for a hearing and subsequent application for a waiver, asserting this process was inconsistent with the procedural rigor mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The denial thwarted NRDC’s attempt to intervene in the license renewal proceeding for Exelon’s Limerick nuclear power station in Pennsylvania.

NRDC sought to present “new and significant” information regarding severe accident mitigation alternatives (SAMAs) relevant to Limerick.

“We find the Commission reasonably concluded NRDC’s request to intervene was a challenge to a general rule … improperly raised in an individual adjudication,” the appeals court said.

Also, “contrary to NRDC’s view, while NEPA requires agencies to take a hard look before approving a major federal action, it does not mandate adoption of a particular process for doing so,” the court said.

The conservation group failed to show its contentions were unique to Limerick. NRDC was not entitled to a waiver, the court said.

The Limerick Generating Station is a dual-unit nuclear power plant with two boiling water reactors located in Limerick Township, Pennsylvania, approximately 35 miles outside of Philadelphia. The Commission first licensed Limerick in 1984 after conducting ninety-five days of hearings and “generating a 20,000-page transcript,” the court noted.

In June 2011, Exelon Generation filed an application to renew its initial 40-year operating licenses for Limerick Generating Station, Units 1 and 2, for an additional 20 years.

“At first glance, NRDC’s predicament is worrisome given the decades that elapse between licensing and relicensing and the advances in mitigation technology that inevitably occur in the interim,” the court said at one point. “Concern is especially understandable in light of the Fukushima tragedy.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council had raised claims of newer, more effective technology developed since 1989 for BWRs like Limerick. It also pointed to demographic changes around the plant (such as increased population and changed economic circumstances).

But the court noted that these concerns are applicable to many, if not all, nuclear plants that will be seeking a 20-year license renewal. The NRC therefore denied the petition for lack of “unique” application.

“That reasonable determination is entitled to deference from this court,” the appeals court said. D.C. Circuit Judge Judith Rogers wrong the opinion of the court.

The case is Natural Resources Defense Council v. NRC, No. 14-1225.

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.