Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Beyond Nuclear v. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Jan 4: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, First Circuit, Case No.12-1561. Petition for review from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Appeals Court explains that NextEra Energy Seabrook, LLC, operates the Seabrook, New Hampshire, Unit 1 nuclear power plant, which provides a significant portion of the baseload electric power used in New England. NextEra applied on May 25, 2010, to renew the Seabrook operating license, which will otherwise expire on March 15, 2030. Renewal is allowed up to twenty years in advance. With its application, NextEra submitted an environmental report, as required. That report discussed the feasibility of alternative sources of electric energy.
    As part of that licensing process, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), on March 8, 2012, issued a decision denying the
admission of a contention by Beyond Nuclear, the New Hampshire Sierra Club, and the Seacoast Anti-Pollution League (collectively BN), which questioned and sought a hearing on the conclusion in the environmental report by NextEra that offshore wind electric generation was not a reasonable alternative to the extended licensing of Seabrook. In doing so, the NRC reversed the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board's (ASLB) admission of that contention. The NRC's denial of admission of a contention here means that it ruled petitioners were not entitled to have a hearing on the merits about their contention that generation of electricity from offshore wind was a reasonable alternative source of baseload energy to the relicensing of Seabrook.
    On petition for review, BN advances two primary challenges to the NRC's decision. First, it argues that in formulating its contention-admissibility standard the NRC misapplied case law interpreting the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Second, it argues that when the NRC applied its contention-admissibility standard to the facts, its conclusion that the contention was inadmissible was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or not otherwise in accordance with the law. The Appeals Court said, "Neither argument is persuasive. . . we deny BN's petition for review."
    The case provides an interesting overview of wind energy potentials and limitations. As an example, BN argues that one study indicated that shallow offshore wind power is viable today (because of its use in Europe) and cited a report from the European Wind Energy Association, "Oceans of Opportunity," (Sept. 2009), discussing the growth of offshore wind in Europe. However the Appeals Court notes that as the NRC correctly noted, another of BN's citations, U.S. Department of Energy, "20% Wind Energy by 2030" (July 2008), stated that such European shallow-water technology is too expensive and too difficult to site in U.S. waters. And, both citations are silent on the critical issue of baseload generation. Thus the Appeals Court restates, "The NRC's decision was not arbitrary or capricious and there is no basis in law to set it aside."
    The Appeals Court added, "If new information about the technical and economic feasibility of offshore wind as a source of baseload power, which differs materially from that which was available when the contention at issue was filed, becomes available prior to Seabrook's license renewal, NRC regulations would permit the filing of a new contention, if timely submitted. . ."       
    Access the complete opinion (click here). [#Energy/Nuclear, #Energy/Wind, #CA1]
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