A court ruling Friday will force the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to reevaluate the environmental impact of storing spent fuel at nuclear plants around the country in the absence of a waste repository at Yucca Mountain or one like it.
D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals challenged 2010 agency rule changes on
spent fuel, including one that upped allowable storage time at plants
from 30 years to 60 years after their licenses expire. The unanimous
decision ruled that the NRC’s environmental analysis of the rule change
was insufficient and ordered the agency to conduct another one.
is a game changer,” said Geoff Fettus, who argued before the court in
March. He is a senior project attorney with the Natural Resources
Defense Council, which is among the environmental groups that joined
four Northeastern states and the Prairie Island Indian tribe in bringing
the suit. “This forces the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to take a hard
look at the environmental consequences of producing highly radioactive
nuclear waste without a long-term disposal solution. The court found:
'The Commission apparently has no long-term plan other than hoping for a
geologic repository,’” he said in an NRDC release Friday.
decades, spent fuel has accumulated at commercial reactors as plant
operators awaited completion of the long-delayed Yucca Mountain waste
repository in Nevada. That program was de-funded in 2010, and a
comparable repository project has not been selected. While the NRC
assumed that the repository would be available “when necessary,” the
court said that the agency had not evaluated the effects of a potential
government failure to built a permanent storage facility, in which case
dry casks at nuclear plants would effectively function as permanent
Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
United States Court of Appeals unanimously rejected Friday a decision
by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to store radioactive waste at
nuclear power plants for 60 years after they close.
According to a
previous version of the Waste Confidence Decision, waste would be
stored at the plants for 30 years after closing. But an amendment made
by the NRC in December of 2010 doubled the time period.
what the NRC did is they sort of went in and waved their regulatory
wand,” said Philip Mahowald, general counsel to the Prairie Island
Upset with the decision, the states of New York,
Connecticut and Vermont filed for an appeal in February last year. The
state of New Jersey and the Prairie Island Indian Community filed for
appeal soon after, as did several environmental groups.
contention was the health and safety hazards that would come about if
long-term storage of nuclear waste would be located at local sites.
“When there’s a major federal action, a federal agency is required to
take a look at the potential environmental impacts,” Mahowald
explained. “Here they just amended the rule without taking a good hard
look and doing a full environmental impact study.”
“Had the federal
government had its way today, more than 4,350 tons of radioactive
nuclear waste would have been automatically approved for long-term
storage along the Mississippi River until at least 2094 — with no
comprehensive environmental impact study, despite Prairie Island’s dry
casks being located on our ancestral homeland 600 yards from our homes
and along a recognized floodplain,” Prairie Island Tribal Council
President Johnny Johnson said.
With the Court of Appeals decision
vacating the most recently amended regulation to the Waste Confidence
Decision, the NRC now has to do a more comprehensive review of on-site