Court: 'No merit' to environmental challenge of nuclear plant

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved construction for two new units at the Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia, and the design of the Westinghouse Electric Co. AP1000 nuclear reactor, before receiving the results of an investigation into the Fukushima disaster.

That drew the ire of environmental groups, who called for the new nuclear project to be halted.

Judge Harry Edwards said the groups “failed to indicate any environmental data that were not considered in the EIS [environmental impact statement],” and the U.S. District Court of Appeals panel found “no merit” in the environmentalists’ claims.

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The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, along with eight other groups, asked the NRC to reassess the design standards of the $14 billion nuclear power plant expansion, and its potential impact on the environment, after those applications were processed and closed.

The NRC and its post-Fukushima task force in charge of investigating safety regulations in the wake of the disaster of 2011 decided to move forward with the projects and later implement more regulations, if needed.

Pleas from environmental groups to halt the approval process were “premature,” the NRC said in response to the petitions. The agency said “existing procedural mechanisms were sufficient to ensure licensees’ compliance with not-yet-enacted regulatory safeguards.”

Further, the task force found in its report that “a sequence of events like the Fukushima accident is unlikely to occur in the United States,” and argued new steps have already been taken to be ready in the event of a disaster.

NRC has issued three rules to help mitigate a situation similar to the one in Japan, which was the largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. But the agency has come under fire from some lawmakers for not making more progress on issuing or proposing safety regulations.