Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New York v. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Dec 21: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, Case No. 08-3903. The case involves a petition for review of a decision of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission denying rulemaking petitions filed by Massachusetts and California. The Appeals Court indicated, "As the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has given due consideration to the relevant studies concerning the rulemaking petitions, we must defer to its expertise in determining the proper risk level associated with the storage of nuclear material in spent fuel pools, and therefore deny the petition to review the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision."

The two States filed rulemaking petitions (Massachusetts in 2006, and California in 2007) asking the NRC to reverse its 1996 Generic Environmental Impact Statement, which found (among other things) that spent fuel pools at nuclear power plants do not create a significant environmental impact within the meaning of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The States petitioning for review here (New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts) claim standing on the ground that nuclear power plants are within or near their borders and that an accident at one of these plants could harm their citizens.

The States on appeal contended that the risk of a spent fuel pool fire must be a Category II rather than a Category I risk, because the risk is affected by mitigation that varies from plant to plant. It is true that the NRC relies in part upon mitigation at nuclear power plants -- including various coolant sprays and makeup water systems in case of pool drainage -- to conclude that the risk of an accidental or terrorist-caused fire in the pools is uniformly low. However, the NRC has mandated that these mitigation tactics be implemented at all nuclear power plants. The Appeals Court ruled, "The NRC relies on numerous studies detailing the effectiveness of its required mitigation measures; these studies constitute substantial evidence."

Access the complete opinion (
click here).

No comments: