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Contact: Tina Posterli, 516-526-9371, firstname.lastname@example.org
Riverkeeper Victory Critical for Indian Point Relicensing Battle
Ossining, NY – June 11, 2012 – In a landmark ruling, the Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in Washington threw out the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) “Waste Confidence Decision,” an agency rule that has allowed the NRC to relicense aging nuclear reactors without having to address the risks of storing highly radioactive spent fuel onsite until a permanent disposal solution is developed.
This rule has previously prevented Riverkeeper from raising safety or environmental concerns about spent fuel storage at Indian Point in the relicensing proceeding, despite the fact that the packed spent fuel pools are prone to leaking radioactive water into the Hudson River, and present a major safety risk to the twenty million people living within fifty miles of Indian Point.
Riverkeeper is a co-petitioner in the case, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL). The states’ challenge to the rule was led by the New York State Attorney General’s office, and joined by the States Attorneys General of New Jersey, Connecticut, and Vermont. Riverkeeper was represented in the case by Diane Curran of Harmon, Curran, Spielberg and Eisenberg and Geoff Fettus of NRDC.
“The court’s ruling clearly shows that the NRC is ‘the Emperor with no clothes’ when it comes to safely storing nuclear waste at Indian Point,” said Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River Program Director at Riverkeeper. “The NRC must now address the risks and impacts of Indian Point’s 1500 tons of nuclear waste before making any decision whether to relicense this old, dangerous, unnecessary plant.”
The unanimous decision by a three judge panel to “vacate” the rule has two critical ramifications for the relicensing of Indian Point:
For decades the NRC has licensed and re-licensed reactors without having a plan for how to safely store and dispose of the highly radioactive spent fuel they produce. Even worse, the NRC’s regulations have specifically barred the public from raising any safety or environmental concerns about spent fuel in any licensing proceedings. Now, for the first time, the NRC must consider the environmental effects and costs if a repository is never found, i.e., what will be the costs and risks of storing spent fuel at reactor sites for decades, or even hundreds of years? How will the NRC make sure that leaks from spent fuel pools will not continue and even increase, as Indian Point and other old plants continue to degrade?
The Court’s reasons for vacating the rule
After decades of failure to site a repository, including twenty years of working on the now-abandoned Yucca Mountain repository, the NRC “has no long-term plan other than hoping for a geologic repository.” Therefore it is possible that spent fuel will be stored at reactor sites “on a permanent basis.” As a result, the NRC must examine the environmental consequences of failing to establish a repository when one is needed.
The Court also rejected NRC’s decision minimizing the risks of leaks or fires in spent fuel stored in reactor pools during future storage, because the NRC had not demonstrated that these future impacts would be insignificant. The Court found that past experience with pool leaks was not an adequate predictor of future experience. It also concluded that the NRC had not shown that catastrophic pool fires were so unlikely that their risks could be ignored.
Riverkeeper has led the fight against the NRC’s illegal approach to nuclear waste in New York for over ten years. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Riverkeeper filed an emergency enforcement petition with the NRC calling for the immediate shutdown of Indian Point, in large part due to the risk posed by the tons of spent fuel housed outside of hardened reactor buildings and vulnerable to terrorism. Despite this risk, the NRC denied the petition, and an appeal to federal court was unsuccessful. In 2007, Riverkeeper intervened in the Indian Point relicensing process and again challenged the NRC and Entergy’s refusal to consider spent fuel pool risks. Because of the Waste Confidence Decision, the NRC was able to reject this challenge and ignore Riverkeeper’s concerns. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011, we renewed our campaign to educate the public about the risks posed by the thousands of tons of nuclear waste stored at Indian Point. This victory will enable us to open a new chapter in the battle against Indian Point’s relicensing, and moves us one big step closer to closing this dangerous plant and transitioning to a safer, cleaner energy future for New York.