2014 - 10 - 29 Mothers for Peace and NRDC Challenge NRC Failure to Comply with Court Ruling on Nuclear Waste Storage

Nine environmental groups, including San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed separate lawsuits today in the D.C. Court of Appeals challenging the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) decision to proceed with an “extended waste storage rule” and a generic environmental impact statement that fail to comply with a 2012 federal court ruling that had previously reversed the NRC.

 

The lawsuits filed by the nine groups are available online at http://www.nirs.org/radwaste/reviewpetition102914.pdf.  The NRDC lawsuit is available online at http://docs.nrdc.org/energy/files/ene_14102901a.pdf.

Three of the nine groups and NRDC brought the earlier lawsuit that resulted in the suspension of all U.S. reactor licensing and re-licensing decisions until the NRC completed a study of the environmental impacts of the longstanding failure to site a repository for disposal of spent reactor fuel.  The groups sued again today, charging that NRC had failed to meet federal safety and environmental requirements and failed to comply with the Court’s decision.

The lawsuits by the nine groups and NRDC followed a similar lawsuit filed earlier this week by the states of New York, Connecticut and Vermont.  (For details on that lawsuit, see http://www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-and-state-coalition-challenge-rules-governing-continued-storage.) An additional lawsuit was filed by the Prairie Island Indian Community, which has long expressed concerns about the Excel Prairie Island Power Plant on the Mississippi River in Minnesota.

In bringing their new lawsuits today, the groups and NRDC noted that storage and disposal of spent reactor fuel poses a major public health and environmental problem.  The federal government estimates that over 141,000 metric tons of spent fuel either already has or will be produced under existing reactor licenses and reactors under construction. Meanwhile, after decades of trying to site a repository, Yucca Mountain has been cancelled and no other repository has been proposed.

Diane Curran, an attorney handling the filing today with the NRC, said:  “The NRC has not dealt seriously with the safety and environmental risks posed by extended spent fuel storage and disposal.  The rule does not make findings regarding the feasibility of safely disposing of spent fuel, as required under the Atomic Energy Act.  And neither the rule nor the environmental impact statement even addresses the question of whether reactors should be licensed given the environmental risks and high costs of spent fuel storage and disposal.”

NRDC Senior Attorney Geoffrey Fettus said: “The NRC disregarded the explicit direction of the D.C. Circuit to examine the environmental impacts of indefinite storage of spent nuclear fuel in the event there is no repository. Instead of complying with the National Environmental Policy Act and assessing those serious environmental impacts and alternatives to limit or avoid them, the NRC created an expedient fiction – that nothing will ever change at storage sites and safe agency practices will persist forever, obviating the need for a repository. This lawsuit simply requests the Court send the agency back to do the job it should have done in the first instance.”

Mark Cooper, a senior fellow for Economic Analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School, who provided the nine groups with an expert analysis of the economics of spent fuel disposal, explained the importance of the legally required waste confidence requirement.  He said that reliance on nuclear reactors for electricity production does not appear to be cost-effective if all the costs of managing and disposing of spent fuel are taken into account.

Dr. Cooper observed that: “The costs of managing spent nuclear fuel are likely to be quite large in absolute value, running to hundreds of billions of dollars (in constant 2012 dollars) and in the range of $10 to $20 per MWH ($0.01 to $0.02 per kWh).  These costs could be high enough to materially affect energy choices when the costs of new reactors or extension of the operating life of existing reactors are compared with energy efficiency and alternative energy sources.  Therefore, if the NRC were to include the costs of spent fuel storage and disposal in its cost-benefit analyses for reactor licensing and re-licensing decisions, these costs easily could tip the balance of the analysis away from licensing or re-licensing the reactors and in favor of other alternatives or the no-action alternative.”

Dr. Arjun Makhijani, an expert who analyzed the rule for the nine groups, said: “Until the NRC has studied the technical feasibility and environmental impacts of spent fuel disposal, it should avoid making licensing decisions that would allow the generation of more highly radioactive spent reactor fuel. Spent nuclear fuel remains highly dangerous for thousands of years.  It has long-lived radioactive materials in it that can seriously contaminate the environment and harm public health if released.  Additionally, spent nuclear fuel contains plutonium-239, a radiotoxic element that can be used to make nuclear weapons if separated from the other materials in the fuel.  Plutonium-239 has a half-life of over 24,000 years.”

The list of those filing the nine-group lawsuit and the reactor licensing or re-licensing cases to which they are parties or have sought to intervene is as follows:

  • Beyond Nuclear (Davis-Besse license renewal, Fermi Unit 2 license renewal, Fermi Unit 3 COL);
  • Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (Bellefonte COL, North Anna Unit 3 COL, Sequoyah license renewal, William States Lee III COL);
  • Missouri Coalition for the Environment (Callaway Unit 1 license renewal);
  • New England Coalition (Seabrook license renewal);
  • Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Inc. (Levy County COL);
  • Riverkeeper (Indian Point license renewal);
  • San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace (Diablo Canyon license renewal);
  • Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition (South Texas Units 1 and 2 license renewal, South Texas Units 3 and 4 COL, Comanche Peak COL); and

Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (Watts Bar OL, Turkey Point Units 6 and 7 COL).