U.S. Court of Appeals Upholds Connecticut Challenge OF NRC Rule
on Storage of Spent Nuclear Reactor Fuel
Landmark Decision Orders NRC to Consider Environmental Impact of Storage Extensions
Attorney General George Jepsen announced a landmark decision by a federal appeals court that upheld a challenge Connecticut filed with New York, New Jersey and Vermont, among others, to a rule by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission that allows spent nuclear fuel to be stored at reactor sites for up to 60 years after the plants shut down.
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the December 2010 change by the NRC to its Waste Confidence Decision “constitutes a major federal action necessitating either an environmental impact statement or finding of no significant environmental impact” as required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.
Further, the court found the NRC’s evaluation of the risks of spent nuclear fuel was deficient because he commission did not calculate the environmental effects of failing to secure permanent storage, a “possibility that cannot be ignored,” the court said.
Also, the commission failed to properly examine future dangers and key consequences when it determined that spent fuel could be safely stored on site at nuclear plants for 60 years after expiration of a plant’s license.
Prior to the change, spent fuel could be stored on site for up to 30 years after a reactor closed.
“This is a critical decision for Connecticut and other states with nuclear power plants,” Attorney General Jepsen said. “It means the federal regulators must make a full and comprehensive analysis of the potential environmental impact of before allowing additional decades of storage of high-level nuclear waste at reactor sites.”
The states had argued that any leaks from spent fuel storage pools or dry storage facilities could have significant impacts on groundwater and land use and should have been considered before the storage period was extended.
Both the Indian Point reactor in New York and the Vermont Yankee reactor have had leaks of small amounts of nuclear material into the groundwater.
Connecticut has two operating nuclear plants, Millstone 2 and Millstone 3 in Waterford and two decommissioned nuclear plants, Millstone 1 in Waterford and Connecticut Yankee in Haddam. The spent fuel from those plants remains on site awaiting a permanent federal storage facility.
Assistant Attorney General Robert Snook is representing the Attorney General in this case.