Today, a coalition of several states, environmental groups, and a Native American nation have scored a major federal court victory against the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) "Nuclear Waste Confidence Decision," more accurately described as a "con game" (a "confidence game" is defined as "any swindle in which the swindler, after gaining the confidence of the victim, robs the victim by cheating at gambling, appropriating funds entrusted for investment, or the like.") NRC has used its "Nuclear Waste Confidence Decision" for decades, to block states, Native American nations, and environmental groups from challenging NRC licenses for new reactors, or license extensions for old reactors, which inevitably lead to the generation of massive amounts of deadly high-level radioactive waste, for which there is no solution.
The Offices of Attorneys General for the States of Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont, the Prairie Island Indian Community of Minnesota (on irradiated nuclear fuel storage issues), and an environmental coalition (on irradiated nuclear fuel disposal issues) represented by Natural Resource Defense Council's (NRDC) nuclear attorney Geoff Fettus and D.C.-based attorney Diane Curran, backed by expert witness Dr. Arjun Makhijani, President of Institutue for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER), have thus successfully challenged NRC's assertion that high-level radioactive wastes can be safely, securely, and soundly stored at reactor sites for 120 years (60 years of licensed operations, and 60 years post-operations). NRC has since undertaken a study about storing high-level radioactive waste at reactor sites for 200-300 years. Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL), NRDC, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), and Riverkeeper comprised the coalition of environmental plaintiffs.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Chief Judge Sentelle (a Republican appointee) wrote the unanimous ruling on behalf of Circuit Judges Griffith (also a Republican appointee) and Tatel (a Democratic appointee), including a summation.
The State of New York Attorney General, Eric T. Schneiderman, a lead plaintiff, issued a press release, including this statement:
“This is a landmark victory for New Yorkers, and people across the country living in the shadows of nuclear power plants. We fought back against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's rubber stamp decision to allow radioactive waste at our nation’s nuclear power plants to be stored for decades after they’re shut down - and we won. The Court was clear in agreeing with my office that this type of NRC 'business as usual' is simply unacceptable. The NRC cannot turn its back on federal law and ignore its obligation to thoroughly review the environmental, public health, and safety risks related to the creation of long-term nuclear waste storage sites within our communities. Whether you're for or against re-licensing Indian Point and our nation’s aging nuclear power plants, the security of our residents who live in the areas that surround these facilities is paramount. I am committed to continuing to use the full force of my office to push the NRC to fully evaluate -- and ensure -- the safety of Indian Point and our other nuclear plants.”
Co-plaintiff William Sorrell, Attorney General of the State of Vermont, issued a press release, stating: “This outcome illustrates how important it is for states to work together on environmental matters of national importance. Today’s decision is a major victory for New York, Vermont, and all other states that host nuclear power plants. 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."
Co-plaintiff George Jepsen, Attorney General of the State of Connecticut, issued a press release, stating:
"This is a critical decision for Connecticut and other states with nuclear power plants. It means the federal regulators must make a full and comprehensive analysis of the potential environmental impact before allowing additional decades of storage of high-level nuclear waste at reactor sites."
U.S. Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), a long-time watchdog on both the nuclear power industry and NRC, issued the following statement in response to the court ruling:
“It comes as no surprise that the court has no confidence in NRC’s waste confidence decision. The NRC relied on what seemed to be a faith-based methodology to conclude that highly radioactive nuclear waste can be left simply sitting in the giant swimming pools and parking lots in which it is currently stored for an additional 60 years. There was a collective failure on the part of both Congress and the Department of Energy to enable a credible, science-based search for a permanent nuclear waste repository.”
Bloomberg has reported on this story. However, its assertion that Yucca Mountain has been built is incorrect. Although $11 billion was spent at Yucca ($8 billion from the ratepayer funded Nuclear Waste Fund, and $3 from taxpayers via Dept. of Energy coffers), and a five mile long "Exploratory Studies Facilty" driveway tunnel drilled, the Yucca Mountain dumpsite was not built. DOE's last prediction, made several years ago, for the price tag of fully building and operating the Yucca dump approached $100 billion.
"In a blow to the nuclear energy industry, a federal appeals court on Friday threw out a rule allowing plants to store spent nuclear fuel onsite for decades after they've closed, and ordered regulators to study the risks involved with that storage -- 65,000 tons now spread across the country, and growing at 2,000 tons a year.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission 'apparently has no long-term plan other than hoping for a geologic repository,' the unanimous ruling stated. 'If the government continues to fail in its quest to establish one, then SNF (spent nuclear fuel) will seemingly be stored on site at nuclear plants on a permanent basis. The Commission can and must assess the potential environmental effects of such a failure.'"