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Groups Admonish NRC for Threat to Preempt States on Groundwater Protection

[May 27, 2010]  In a May 25, 2010 joint letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) from Beyond Nuclear, Eastern Environmental Law Center, Greenpeace, Natural Resources Defense Council, Riverkeeper and Union of Concerned Scientists, the environmental groups ask the federal safety regulator “to confirm in writing that the NRC recognizes that it is both legal and appropriate for the States to take legal action against licensees when drinking water is under threat.” 

The groups’ request follows disclosure at the April 20, 2010 NRC public meeting regarding on-going groundwater contamination from nuclear power plants of a July 5, 2006 letter from the NRC Office of General Counsel (OGC) to the State of Illinois. The NRC attorneys threatened federal preemption if the State Attorney General pursued a lawsuit against Exelon Corporation’s for uncontrolled and unmonitored radioactive leaks from its nuclear power plants in the state that had polluted groundwater.  The groups admonished the NRC that since the agency “has chosen not to enforce its mandate to protect human health and safety with respect to multiple groundwater contamination issues, we strongly urge the NRC to cease any attempts to preempt state governments from exercising their authority to protect important economic and environmental resources within their borders.”

The not-so-veiled threat from NRC under former Chairman Dale Klein may have influenced the State of Illinois to settle with Exelon for $1.5 million in damages for violations of state groundwater protection laws originally assessed at $36.5 million that stemmed from radioactive leaks at the Braidwood, Bryon and Dresden nuclear power plants. Braidwood’s radioactive pollution of state regulated groundwater both on and off the reactor site went undisclosed by the company for a decade. Similarly, Exelon is now defying the enforcement authority of the State of New Jersey to order a clean-up of a drinking water aquifer contaminated by radioactive leaks from Exelon’s Oyster Creek nuclear power plant.  The Beyond Nuclear report “Leak First, Fix Later” describes in the chapter “Illegal Trespass and an Industry Above the Law” the legal prowess and arrogance of the nuclear industry now revealed to have included the NRC as an adversary to state rights to regulate and enforce water protection laws.