States sue NRC over on-site waste storage

16 February 2011

Three north-eastern US states - Connecticut, New York and Vermont - are suing the federal nuclear regulator for allowing the on-site storage of radioactive waste for up to 60 years, claiming the decision violates federal laws.


In December 2010, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced its decision to revise regulations to allow US nuclear power utilities to store used fuel onsite for up to 60 years after plant shutdown. This period had previously been limited to 30 years. The revised regulations came into effect in late January 2011.


However, the attorney generals of Connecticut, New York and Vermont have now jointly filed a lawsuit against the NRC claiming that in making the changes it "acted arbitrarily, abused its discretion, and violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, the Atomic Energy Act, the Commission's policies and regulations" and other federal laws and regulations. The petition was filed on 14 February on behalf of the states in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.


The states said that the NRC needs to perform site-by-site environmental impact studies before extending the temporary storage rule because "any leaks from used fuel storage pools or dry storage facilities could have significant impacts on groundwater and land use."


The states also noted that the NRC had found "reasonable assurance" that sufficient, licensed, off-site storage capacity will be available to dispose of radioactive waste "when necessary." However, they point out that efforts to site a national radioactive waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, were suspended in 2010 and no replacement facility has yet been identified.


In their petition, the states of New York, Vermont and Connecticut "respectfully request that the court review the NRC's Temporary Storage Rule and Waste Confidence Decision Update, vacate both, and remand the matter to the NRC for further analysis and the preparation and issuance of an environmental impact statement, and grant any other relief that the court may deem just and appropriate."


"Our communities deserve a thorough review of the environmental, public health, and safety risks such a move would present," according to New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman.


William Sorrell, attorney general of Vermont, commented: "The public has a right to know how long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel will affect the environment, particularly when it is occurring at nuclear power plants that were never designed to be long-term storage facilities of spent nuclear fuel."


The attorney general of Connecticut, George Jepsen, added, "We are asking the NRC to obey the law. The NRC has a mandatory legal duty to provide state and local governments and public with a full and comprehensive analysis of the potential environmental impact of additional decades of storage of high-level nuclear waste."


NRC spokesman David McIntyre told the New York Times that the lawsuit by the attorney generals had mischaracterized the nature of the December decision by the commission. He described the decision as a commission "opinion" on how long waste could be safely stored rather than a rule permitting any plant to store used fuel.


There are currently two nuclear power reactors in operation in Connecticut (Millstone units 2 and 3) as well as two shut down units (Millstone unit 1 and the single-unit Connecticut Yankee plant). Six reactors are in operation in New York State at the Ginna, Indian Point, FitzPatrick and Nine Mile Point plants. The Vermont Yankee plant is Vermont’s sole operating nuclear unit.


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News