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Vermont And Other States Win Lawsuit Challenging Nuclear Regulatory Commission Rules On Storage Of Spent Nuclear Fuel

CONTACT: William H. Sorrell, Assistant Attorney General, (802) 828-3173

June 8, 2012

Attorney General William Sorrell announced today that the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has issued a major ruling vacating two decisions by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regarding the storage of spent nuclear fuel. The court held that the NRC’s “Temporary Storage Rule” and its accompanying “Waste Confidence Decision Update” were issued without the legally required full evaluation of environmental risks associated with long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel at reactor sites.

Vermont was a party to this lawsuit, which was led by the New York Attorney General’s Office. “New York did a great job leading the litigation team, and I applaud their work on this case,” said Attorney General William Sorrell. In addition to Vermont, the states of Connecticut and New Jersey joined the lawsuit, as did the Prairie Island Indian Community, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Riverkeeper, Inc., and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. The NRC had support from intervenors Entergy Nuclear Operations, Inc. and the Nuclear Energy Institute, Inc. “This outcome illustrates how important it is for states to work together on environmental matters of national importance,” said Attorney General Sorrell.

“Today’s decision is a major victory for New York, Vermont, and all other states that host nuclear power plants,” said Attorney General Sorrell. “The court confirmed what Vermont and other states have said for many years now—that the NRC has a duty to inform the public about the environmental effects of long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel, particularly when it is occurring at nuclear power plants that were never designed to be long-term storage facilities,” Sorrell continued.

In the rules that the court vacated, the NRC had claimed that there would be “no significant impact” on the environment from allowing spent nuclear fuel to be stored onsite at power plants such as the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station for as long as 60 years after the plants cease operating. The NRC rules had asserted that an environmental analysis was unnecessary because the NRC was confident that spent nuclear fuel could be stored safely at Vermont Yankee until 2072 (60 years from the end of the original license), or, upon relicensing, until 2092. Those rules have now been vacated.

The court’s decision noted that long-term onsite storage of spent nuclear fuel was “optimistically labeled ‘temporary storage’” even though it “has been used for decades longer than originally anticipated.” The court further noted that the “lack of progress on a permanent repository has caused considerable uncertainty regarding the environmental effects” of onsite storage and also called into question “the reasonableness of continuing to license and relicense nuclear reactors.” The court held that the NRC “can and must assess the potential environmental effects” of the federal government’s failure to secure a long-term permanent storage facility.

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