Federal appeals court upholds renewal license for oldest nuclear plant

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] Thursday upheld [opinion, PDF] the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) [official website] decision to renew the operating license of the nation's oldest nuclear power plant. The court held the NRC did not abuse its discretion in renewing the license for another 10 years for the 40-year-old New Jersey plant. The New Jersey Environmental Federation (NJEF) [advocacy website] challenged the NRC procedures used to approve the renewal, seeking to force the NRC to reconsider the decision to renew the license. NJEF argues there is corrosion of the steel containment unit that encloses the reactor vessel may be causing radiation to leak into the Oyster Creek. The plant's owner, Exelon [corporate website], produced evidence that it had sufficiently protected against leakage and agreed to shut down the plant in 10 years. The court, on an abuse of discretion standard, found that NJEF did not meet its burden to reopen the record and refused to interfere with the agencies expertise:

We commend Citizens for their diligence in bringing these issues to the attention of the Board and the NRC. We also recognize that the Board and the NRC provided hundreds of pages detailing their decision making and gave due consideration to Citizens' concerns. We are confident that the NRC's review of Exelon's application was well-reasoned, and we will not second-guess technical decisions within the realm of its unique expertise.
The court also asked that the NRC, Exelon and NJEF comment on how the disaster in Japan causing a meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station should impact the Oyster Creek. The court concluded based on the NRC's determination that the containment was adequate that the events in Japan did not support granting the NJEF's petition. In April, Tamar Cerafici of the Cerafici Law Firm argued [JURIST op-ed] that the nuclear crisis in Japan highlights the need for an international response with clear, measured leadership from the US, saying that leadership is hollow unless the US adopts a coherent energy policy paying more than a begrudging acceptance of nuclear power. Last July, three administrative law judges with the NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board [official website] denied a request [JURIST report] by the Obama administration and the US Department of Energy (DOE) [official website] to withdraw the government's application for a license to construct a permanent nuclear waste repository [Berkeley Lab backgrounder] in Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The DOE filed a motion to withdraw the application in March 2010 claiming that Yucca Mountain is not a "workable option" for the long-term disposal of nuclear waste and that "alternatives will better serve the public interest."

 

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