NRC being sued

After the NRC denying NEPA hearings on security contentions in licensing proceedings, the NRC is being sued in 1st Circuit Federal Court in Boston by Massachusetts Attorney General and now 3rd Circuit Federal Court in Philadelphia by the New Jersey Attorney General after having already lost in the 9th Circuit in San Francisco by Mothers for Peace.

A copy of the State of New Jersey’s filings to the 3rd Circuit is available upon request to NIRS.

Paul, NIRS

Tel 301 270 6477

Asbury Park Press, Asbury Park, New Jersey

April 26, 2007


Aim: Make NRC weigh attack risk

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 04/26/07


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LACEY — The state of New Jersey filed a petition with the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday calling for the impact of a potential terrorist attack to be considered in the relicensing review of the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant.

"Our primary concern is the potential for harm to human health and the environment," Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson said in a statement.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission could determine as early as next month whether to renew the plant's operating license for 20 years. If it is renewed, it will become the nation's first nuclear power plant to operate longer than 40 years. If the license is not renewed, the plant will close in 2009.

With the petition, the state is challenging the NRC's Feb. 26 decision rejecting New Jersey's contention that an analysis of the potential impact of a terrorist attack should be included in the relicensing review.

The NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board made the same decision earlier.

Both state officials and renewal opponents have questioned the safety of a water-filled pool where spent nuclear fuel is temporarily stored at Oyster Creek. It is located 119 feet above the ground in the metal-roofed reactor building. Some critics and nuclear power experts say this makes it susceptible to an airborne attack.

"On one hand, the NRC has imposed extensive security requirements on nuclear power plants since 9/11 to guard against attacks. On the other hand, it continues to insist that, from a legal perspective, the likelihood of such an attack is merely theoretical, and not worthy of analysis as part of the relicensing process," state Attorney General Stuart Rabner said in a statement.

Oyster Creek spokeswoman Leslie Cifelli said "we agree with the long-standing position of the NRC and agree that terrorism was taken into account in their general environmental impact statement."

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said: "We have not yet had an opportunity to review the lawsuit and therefore would not be able to comment on it at this point. However, we will be responding in due course."

Calif. case cited

Rabner compared New Jersey's case with one decided by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of a California activist group last June. The San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace pushed for the NRC to consider the potential impact of a terrorist attack on the licensing review for an independent fuel storage installation at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in that city, according to the Attorney General's Office.

The court ruled that the NRC made a mistake in determining that the National Environmental Policy Act does not require it to consider terrorist attacks at nuclear facilities.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co., which runs that plant, petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case, but it rejected the request.

In a brief to the Supreme Court appealing the 9th Circuit ruling, the NRC stated: "An agency's precautionary choice to protect against a highly improbable event hardly increases the casual connection between the agency's action and the event, much less the likelihood of the event occurring."

New Jersey's action Wednesday drew praise from activist groups opposing the relicensing.

"We are proud of what the state is doing. This is a major issue that needs to be addressed for safety," said Janet Tauro, a member of the activist group Grandmothers, Mothers and More for Energy Safety, or GRAMMES.

Tauro said New Jersey is setting a precedent that other states will follow when the licenses of their plants are to be reviewed.

She also said the plant is "a very potent nuclear weapon if an attack occurred there."

Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Watchdog Project for the Nuclear Information and Resource Service in Takoma Park, Md., said the group fully supports the state's efforts to get hearings on "a host of issues with regard to terrorism and the . . . vulnerability of Oyster Creek's design."

Optimistic opponent

Richard Webster, staff attorney and lecturer in law at the Rutgers Environmental Law Clinic, said he's "very happy" with the state's decision.

"We think that the issue of terrorist attack upon the spent fuel pool needs to be addressed," said Webster, who represents a coalition of six activist groups, including NIRS and GRAMMES, opposed to the proposed relicensing.

"This is . . . another step toward getting something done about it," he said.

"The NRC should have made more serious efforts already to actually mitigate the problem," he said. "Because they haven't, we're glad the state is stepping into the breech."

Webster said he thinks the state's chances of prevailing are very good, since the "9th Circuit has already said that terrorism is a foreseeable problem and therefore you have to assess it."

Environmental writer Todd B. Bates contributed to this story, which also contains material from previous Asbury Park Press stories.

Asbury Park Press


April 26, 2007

State to NRC: See ya in court

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 04/26/07

The odds against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission rejecting a 20-year license extension for the Oyster Creek nuclear generating plant always were long. It's only a matter of time — perhaps as soon as next month — before it gives its blessing to the Lacey plant. That would keep intact the NRC's perfect record of never having said "no" to a license renewal request.

Fortunately, that won't be the end of the story. The state Wednesday announced it will challenge in federal court the NRC's ruling that it doesn't have to consider the impact of a possible terrorist strike on the plant in the license renewal process. We hope the state will follow that up by ordering Oyster Creek to be retrofitted with a cooling tower, in keeping with the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act. Plant owner AmerGen has said that a cooling tower would be too expensive to allow it to continue operating the plant profitably.

In February, the NRC rejected the state's contention that an analysis of the potential impact of a terrorist strike at the plant — whose dated design makes its spent fuel pool particularly vulnerable — should be part of the environmental review process. The state's decision to challenge the ruling in court isn't simply a legal maneuver to shut the plant. Concern about the possible impact of a terrorist strike on Oyster Creek's spent fuel pool was heightened by the recent disclosure of an internal memo from a safety specialist at Oyster Creek stating that the floor of the spent fuel pool was not constructed to design and was not adequately attached to the wall.

". . . (F)rom a nuclear safety perspective, the controlling structure with least margin is the floor of the fuel pool," the memo said. "The floor was supposed to be attached to the walls with a rebar configuration. . . . This is not the configuration we found and was why we had to limit the fuel pool temperature to 125 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure the floor did not detach and drop during a seismic event and rupture the fuel pool liner. If this rebar is really corroding as projected, I suspect our design analysis of the floor support is not valid today, let alone for a 20-year life extension."

The NRC has done everything its self-serving rules allow to keep opponents from having their legitimate questions about the plant's impact on public health, safety and the environment addressed. As state Environmental Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson noted Wednesday, "If the NRC intends to block states from considering the environmental consequences of a terrorist attack, then they are obligated to assess that danger themselves."

It's an obligation the NRC has consistently and irresponsibly sidestepped. It's nice to see the state trying to fill the void.