2011-02-15 News Release: Federal Court Fails to Hold NRC Accountable for Public Safety

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the petition by Mothers for Peace to overturn a licensing decision by the NRC regarding the dry cask radioactive waste storage facility at Diablo Canyon.

San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace

P.O. Box 3608

San Luis Obispo, CA 93403



Federal Court Fails to Hold NRC Accountable for Public Safety

For Immediate Release

February 15, 2011

Contacts: Jane Swanson


(805) 595-2605

cell (805) 440-1359

Elizabeth Apfelberg


(805) 783-2383

On February 15, 2011, the Ninth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals denied the petition by San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace (SLOMFP) to overturn a licensing decision by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regarding the dry cask radioactive waste storage facility at Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.  SLOMFP had asserted that:

1. The NRC violated federal environmental law when it refused to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement addressing the potentially catastrophic impact of an attack on the dry cask facility.

2. The NRC illegally refused to provide SLOMFP with a closed hearing where it could challenge the NRC’s determination that no credible type of attack could do significant damage to the environment.

Spokesperson Jane Swanson reflected that, “Only when members of the public are informed and permitted to participate in licensing decisions can they hold the NRC accountable for protection of public health and the environment.  By denying SLOMFP the closed hearing it sought in this case, the court has effectively excused the NRC from accountability to the neighbors of Diablo Canyon for a licensing decision that could have profound adverse effects on public health and the environment.  Now the NRC is accountable only to PG&E, which has a vested interest in minimizing the cost of environmental protection.”  Mothers for Peace is weighing its options, which include seeking reconsideration by the court.

In 2006, the same court ruled in favor of SLOMFP, holding that the National Environmental Policy Act requires the NRC to consider the environmental impacts of attacks in its licensing decisions for nuclear facilities. That ruling is available at http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2006/06/01/0374628.pdf

SLOMFP continues its role as watchdog of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is sited near several active earthquake faults and which has operated since 1984.  Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), which operates the two reactors at Diablo Canyon, has applied for extensions of the operating licenses until the years 2044 and 2045, respectively.


The precedent-setting case began in 2002, when the NRC refused to evaluate the environmental impacts of an attack on the proposed dry cask facility before issuing a permit to PG&E to store spent fuel on the site. In 2006, the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals ordered the NRC to do such a study in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In response, the NRC Staff produced an extremely abbreviated 8-page environmental assessment that claimed the impacts of a successful attack would be “insignificant”. MFP's expert witness, Dr. Gordon Thompson of the Institute for Resource and Security Studies, contended that the agency’s technical analysts erred by assuming a cask could be punctured without also recognizing that its contents could be ignited, allowing a large quantity of radioactive cesium and other contaminants to become airborne and transported over a broad geographic area. The resulting damage to public health and the environment would cost billions of dollars.

Information about other ongoing projects of the group can be found at http://mothersforpeace.org/data/2011-02-10

The court ruling is available at http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/opinions/