San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace attorney Diane Curran has filed a petition demanding that licensing proceedings at Diablo Canyon and eleven other nuclear power plants be suspended until the environmental consequences of a small spent fuel pool fire has been considered under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Background information: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in its Expedited Spent Fuel Transfer Proceeding, has revealed new and significant information about the environmental impacts of high-density storage of spent nuclear fuel and the cost of mitigation for spent fuel fires.
The Expedited Spent Fuel Transfer Proceeding revealed for the first time that as many as 9,400 square miles could be rendered uninhabitable by a relatively small spent fuel pool fire, displacing over 4 million people for decades (Peach Bottom Nuclear Power Plant). While the population density around Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is lower than around the Peach Bottom facility, the economic and environmental consequences of an accident would be grave. San Luis Obispo County’s agricultural economy is worth almost $2 billion per year – rendered worthless if there were even a small spent fuel pool fire at Diablo Canyon. Tourism, the County’s mainstay, would be wiped out.
The NRC Proceeding also showed that moving spent fuel out of densely-packed pools would be cost-beneficial as an alternative. San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace has repeatedly urged Pacific Gas and Electric Company to expeditiously transfer spent fuel out of the densely-packed pools at Diablo Canyon, with no response. The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors made the same request of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and California lawmakers in its letter of December 17, 2013. Now it appears that the NRC Staff agrees with SLO Mothers for Peace and the SLO County Board of Supervisors: quickly moving spent fuel out of densely-packed pools and into dry cask storage is beneficial and cost-effective.
And finally, the NRC Staff acknowledged that an accident at a reactor could contribute to a spent fuel fire. The consequences of this scenario must be fully studied and analyzed before any relicensing decision can be made.
San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace Spokesperson Linda Seeley commented, “It would be irresponsible of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to continue with the relicensing of Diablo Canyon while its own Staff has found that a small spent fuel fire could cause irreparable environmental damage to a vast area around the nuclear plant. The NRC needs to follow its own rules and make decisions that protect the common good rather than protecting the utilities’ profits.”
NEPA requires agencies to consider the environmental impacts of proposed actions right up until the point of the agency’s decision. Even after a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has been prepared, if new and significant information arises which could affect the outcome of the environmental analysis, the EIS for that decision must be supplemented. Here, by its own admission, the NRC has new information that could have a significant effect on its regulatory program and the outcome of its licensing decisions for individual reactors. For the NRC to go ahead with licensing decisions and certification of standardized designs, ignoring the potential significance of this new information, would constitute a gross violation of NEPA.