Environmental groups fight nuclear storage rules

Environmental groups are attempting to overturn the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's rules for the "safe" long-term storage of radioactive waste with a spate of court filings.
Written by David Worthington, Contributor

There are many experimental techniques for storing nuclear waste, including vitrification, which is popular in France.

A coalition of environmental groups has let loose a spate of legal challenges against the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) 2010 findings that spent reactor fuel and highly radioactive nuclear waste can be safety tucked away for the long term.

Yesterday, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL), Riverkeeper, and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), filing a petition asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to strike NRC rules that storing the waste wouldn’t pose any significant safety or environmental concerns.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a separate request, which also contests the NRC’s contention that it’s possible to permanently store waste with confidence that it won't cause any harm in the future.

“This case is about how highly radioactive waste will be treated in the licensing process for a new generation of nuclear plants. In contrast to the NRC’s effort to kick the issue down the road until some day in the distant future, the law requires the NRC to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that evaluates the public health and environmental impacts of spent fuel disposal,” Geoff Fettus, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

“An EIS would also address the question of whether there are more cost-effective energy alternatives that would avoid saddling future generations with the costs and risks of disposing of highly radioactive waste generated by nuclear reactors,” Fettus continued.

Earlier this month, the states of Connecticut, New York, and Vermont sued the NRC for issuing rules for the “temporary” storage of spent fuel that the states claim do nothing to address problems at individual reactor sites.

The NRC's regulations require that nuclear waste be stored at reactor sites for up to 60 years, whether the reactor is still active or not. There are nearly 121 known temporary storage facilities located in 39 different states.

President Obama’s FY 2012 budget requests $36 billion in new loan guarantees for the construction of reactors, and some key senators have shown a thawing of their views on nuclear power. It is likely that a new generation of reactors will begin to crop up, further complicating the storage question.

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