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Vermont Attorney General Press Release on Petition to NRC Regarding the Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel

CONTACT: William H. Sorrell, Attorney General, Kyle H. Landis-Marinello, Assistant Attorney General, (802) 828-3171

May 23, 2013

Attorney General William H. Sorrell and the Vermont Department of Public Service, joined by the Attorneys General of Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts, filed a Petition with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) yesterday calling for a more expansive environmental review of the impacts of storing spent nuclear fuel onsite at nuclear power plants. “Federal law requires that the NRC analyze the environmental dangers of storing spent nuclear fuel at reactors that were not designed for long-term storage,” said Attorney General Sorrell.

“The NRC should have addressed this issue decades ago by doing the federally required comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement,” said Christopher Recchia, Commissioner of the Vermont Public Service Department. “Vermont will continue to remind the NRC of its duties to ensure that the storage and disposal issue is fully addressed,” Recchia said.

The NRC is currently undergoing a rulemaking process that is the result of a successful lawsuit brought by Vermont, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and other groups. In a landmark ruling last summer, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (D.C. Circuit) agreed with the States that the NRC’s previous environmental reviews were inadequate and vacated them. 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.

Earlier this year, Vermont, joined by New York and Massachusetts, filed Comments with the NRC explaining why the NRC’s proposed environmental analysis fails to comply with the D.C. Circuit’s ruling. “Our comments made clear that the D.C. Circuit’s ruling required the NRC to address the possibility that spent nuclear fuel might stay at reactor sites for years, decades, or even centuries,” Attorney General Sorrell said. In a Scoping Decision issued after those comments, the NRC’s regulatory staff disagreed with the States and instead took the position that the NRC can engage in a much more limited environmental review.

Yesterday’s petition by the States asks the 5-member Nuclear Regulatory Commission to overrule its regulatory staff and redirect the environmental review so that it will comply with federal law. The petition specifically asks the NRC to expand the scope of the environmental review to look at (1) the alternative of requiring dry cask storage of spent fuel rather than continued use of spent fuel pools; and (2) the alternative of not allowing further production of spent fuel until the NRC determines that there is a safe and environmentally acceptable permanent waste repository to receive the additional spent fuel.

Attorney General Sorrell applauded the decision by Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley to join Vermont’s petition. “I am pleased that three other states agree with our office and the Department of Public Service that the NRC must correct course,” said Attorney General Sorrell. “As with the comments we filed earlier this year, yesterday’s petition sends a strong signal to the NRC that the states will not back down on this,” Sorrell continued.

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