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Nuclear waste: why environmentalists are pressing NRC on reactor licenses

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In its ruling the court concluded that the NRC's standard finding during the relicensing process that permanent nuclear-waste storage will be available “when necessary” did not calculate the environmental effects of failing to secure permanent storage – "a possibility that cannot be ignored."

The court also found that the NRC's finding that spent fuel could safely be stored on site at nuclear plants for 60 years after expiration of a plant’s license, "failed to properly examine future dangers and key consequences."

"The waste confidence ruling is a breath of fresh air because it is a recognition by the court that the emperor has no clothes when it comes to nuclear-waste disposal in this country," says Edwin Lyman, a nuclear expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nuclear safety watchdog.

"The NRC and the industry have to come to terms with the fact that there may be no final repository for spent fuel for a very long time, if ever, and do a fair evaluation of the environmental impacts of indefinite long-term on-site storage in the context of both renewed and new reactor licenses."

Monday's legal petition by 22 environmental groups and two individuals calls for the environmental analyses ordered by the Court of Appeals to be "applied in each reactor licensing case before operation is permitted, and that they will be given a meaningful opportunity to participate in the decision-making process,” Diane Curran, an attorney representing some of the groups in the Court of Appeals case said in a statement.

In the aftermath of the ruling, nuclear energy industry officials expressed disappointment over the court ruling, but said it would mean process adjustments and should not unduly intensify NRC scrutiny or slow up relicensing efforts.

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