Green groups threaten lawsuit over nuke waste rules

Environmental groups want regulators to stop issuing licenses for nuclear power plants, since the federal government has delayed for decades building a federal nuclear waste disposal site.

The groups, including Beyond Nuclear, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, filed a notice Monday with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) outlining their intent to sue if the agency does not immediately act.

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The coalition is targeting the NRC’s conclusion last month that spent nuclear fuel rods could safely be indefinitely stored at decommissioned nuclear plants.

Since the federal government continues to delay construction of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada, the groups argue that nuclear waste can never be safely disposed of, and the NRC is obligated to stop issuing licenses or renewals.

“NRC has long acknowledged that before licensing a reactor, the Atomic Energy Act requires it to make waste confidence findings that spent fuel can be safely disposed of in a geologic repository at some point in the future,” Diane Curran, a lawyer for the groups, said in a statement.

“Yet, the NRC has now arbitrarily dropped those findings from its regulations, claiming they are not necessary. The absence of Waste Confidence findings is a significant safety issue that should concern the public because spent fuel poses a serious public health and environmental hazard from which the public and environment can only be protected long-term with a geologic repository,” she said.

Last month’s vote followed a 2012 court decision that found that the NRC did not adequately consider that Yucca would never be built in the rules it uses for considering the safety of power plants.

The environmentalists said that if a federal court agrees with them, it could put into jeopardy licenses for 23 reactors at 14 sites across the United States that have applied for permits or renewals.