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Court Rules NRC Must Evaluate On Site Storage of Nuclear Fuel

A U.S. Appeals Court upheld a challenge to a federal rule that allows spent nuclear fuel to be stored at reactor sites like Indian Point for up to 60 years after the plants cease operation.

A Nuclear Regulatory Commission finding that storage of radioactive waste at the nation’s nuclear power plants for up to 60 years after plants close is safe and has no adverse environmental impacts was overturned by a United State Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit June 8.  The state attorney general says this could affect the relicensing of

The court’s ruling is in favor of New York Attorney Genera Eric T. Schneiderman and three other states attorney generals’ challenge to the NRC finding. The challenge states that “federal law requires the NRC to complete review of the public health, safety and environmental hazards such storage would pose before allowing the long-term storage of nuclear waste in communities,” according to Schneiderman’s press release.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will not be able to license or re-license Indian Point or any other nuclear power plant until it examines the dangers and consequences of long-term on-site storage of nuclear waste, according to the Attorney General.

“The appeals court found that the spent nuclear fuel stored on-site ‘poses a dangerous, long-term health and environmental risk.’  The Court invalidated the regulation and remanded the matter back to the NRC with a directive that the Commission fully comply with federal law,” Schneiderman states.

 “It would be premature to say that would have an impact on Indian Point License renewal review,” NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said.  The NRC looks at storage of spent fuel on an ongoing basis, not when focusing on license renewal, Sheehan said.

Schneiderman and the other attorney generals are touting the decision as a victory that will require the NRC to perform a rigorous review of risks from spent fuel leaks and fires before it can relicense nuclear power plants like Indian Point Energy Center.  

“This is a landmark victory for New Yorkers, and people across the country living in the shadows of nuclear power plants. We fought back against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's rubber stamp decision to allow radioactive waste at our nation’s nuclear power plants to be stored for decades after they’re shut down - and we won," Schneiderman said.

The NRC’s finding that no significant safety or environmental impacts will result from storing highly radioactive nuclear wastes onsite at nuclear power plants violated the federal NEPA (National Environmental Police Act), which requires federal government agencies to study the environmental impacts of proposed agency actions. The court states that NRC made this conclusion without conducting necessary studies, according to Schneiderman. 

The courts also found that the NRC violated the law when it found “reasonable assurance” that sufficient, licensed off-site storage capacity will be available to dispose of nuclear power plant waste “When necessary.”

Efforts to use Yucca Mountain Repository to store off-site nuclear waste were suspended by the federal government in 2010, leaving no replacement facility to take its place. The appeals court wrote that the NRC “apparently has no long-term plan other than hoping for a geologic repository.” 

“There is no federal repository for spent fuel,” Sheehan said. “Plants have no other choice but to store (nuclear waste) on site in fuel pools or in dry cask storage. The Commission is continuing to look at waste to make it as safe as possible.”

The NRC’s general counsel is continuing to review the court ruling and will respond according to whatever deadline the court sets, Sheehan said. 

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Do you worry about the safety of spent fuel storage? Take our poll and tell us in the comments.  

Francis T McVetty June 12, 2012 at 04:29 PM
Maybe this will get the government OFF it's fat arse and do something about the Yucca Mountain facility. We have spent over 80 BILLION dollars on it.
Dean Ashby December 12, 2012 at 04:49 AM
It is a good thing that the ruling has been overturned. I personally believe that there are bound to be some side effects, if not now, sooner or later. The various authorities ought to investigate deeper at the nuclear fuel storage places before anything major happens to residents in surrounding areas. Prevention is always better than cure. - http://ezestore.com.au

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