Court upholds storage of nuclear waste at power plants, rebuffing states

Court upholds storage of nuclear waste at power plants, rebuffing states

A federal appeals court Friday rejected a plea from four liberal states to overturn a regulation allowing long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel at power plants.

The District of Columbia Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) followed all relevant laws and standards when it wrote its 2014 regulation and an associated environmental impact statement. 

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The rule concluded that spent fuel rods can be stored safely at nuclear power plants indefinitely, which may be necessary if the United States never builds the long-delayed Yucca Mountain waste repository.

“Because we hold that the NRC did not engage in arbitrary or capricious decision-making, we deny the petitions for review,” a three-judge panel of the court wrote in its decision.

The ruling means that NRC can continue to give nuclear plants, both active and inactive, permission to store their spent fuel rods on-site for as long as they need to.

The attorneys general of New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut filed the lawsuit shortly after the NRC voted to make its regulation and environmental impact statement final.

“The NRC’s approach is wrong and illegal, and I will continue to fight to ensure that our communities receive the full and detailed accounting of the risks of long-term, on-site nuclear waste storage that they deserve,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said at the time.

The Natural Resources Defense Council joined to support the states.

The same court overturned the nuclear agency's previous spent fuel storage regulation in 2012, ruling that the NRC did not properly consider the safety of storage over the long term, like leaks in storage pools or fires. That case, brought by a similar group to the more recent one, prompted the agency to redo its regulation.

But the NRC’s second attempt at resolving the problem appears to have worked.

“We acknowledge the political discord surrounding our nation’s evolving nuclear energy policy. But the role of Article III courts in this debate is circumscribed,” the judges wrote.

“To the extent that the petitioners disagree with the NRC’s current policy for the continued storage of spent nuclear fuel, their concerns should be directed to Congress.”