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spent nuclear fuel pool

photo: NRC/FlickrSpent fuel pool

On June 8, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decided in favor of NRDC, along with other environmental and state petitioners, who challenged the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) over their "Waste Confidence Decision" (WCD) and Temporary Storage Rule (TSR). The Court ruled that, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the NRC failed to address the impacts of the reality that the United States does not have a permanent storage facility for toxic radioactive nuclear waste.

The Court wrote: "The Commission apparently has no long-term plan other than hoping for a geologic repository. If the government continues to fail in its quest to establish one, then [spent nuclear fuel] will seemingly be stored on site at nuclear plants on a permanent basis. The Commission can and must assess the potential environmental effects of such a failure." The states of New York, New Jersey, Vermont and Connecticut joined environmental groups led by NRDC in the successful challenge to the WCD and TSR.

The Court further ruled that, in determining whether to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a major federal action, the NRC "must examine both the probability of a given harm occurring and the consequences of that harm if it does occur." With this decision, the DC Circuit vacated an NRC rule which every nuclear industry operator relies upon when receiving a license from the agency. As a result, the court's ruling directs that prior to any relicensing or licensing of a nuclear power generating station, the agency must perform a NEPA analysis on the matter of spent fuel storage and disposal, taking into account that the issue of permanent disposal still is not certain and, therefore, taking into account the environmental consequences if a permanent nuclear waste storage site is never established.

Limerick generating facility

photo: NRC/FlickrLimerick Generating Station, Pottstown, PA

More recently, the NRC Commissioners issued a Memorandum and Order, CLI-12-16, on August 7, 2012 in response to a series of petitions addressing many of the issues concerning temporary storage and ultimate disposal of nuclear waste raised by NRDC and others. Citing the June 8th court decision as well as NRDC's contention in the Limerick nuclear plant relicensing, and the many nuclear power plants where similar contentions were filed, the NRC suspended any final decisions on at least 19 nuclear licensing proceedings until the court's remand has been appropriately addressed. This NRC decision most directly impacts Entergy's Indian Point Energy Center: the license for Unit 2 expires on September 28, 2013.

last revised 8/14/2012

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