U.S. Supreme Court ruling may affect VY's relicensure
By Christian Avard Vermont Guardian
Posted January 18, 2007
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  VERNON - A U.S. Supreme Court ruling may force Entergy officials to clear yet another hurdle in their attempt to extend the operating license of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant- whether the plant is vulnerable to a terrorist attack.

  Late Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied to hear an appeal filed by the owner of two nuclear power plants in California in response to a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last year that said federal regulators had to consider the environmental impact of a terrorist attack on both the plant, and the dry cask storage facility.

  How the ruling may affect Vermont Yankee's (VY) application to produce power through 2032 is unclear.

  "It will only affect any contentions that affect potential terrorist attacks on the plant," said Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for NRC's Region 1 office. "I believe only the Massachusetts [attorney general's office] raised that issue with regards to Vermont Yankee."

  The Massachusetts Attorney General argued before federal regulators last year that federal officials needed to weigh the power station's vulnerability to a terrorist attack due to the increased onsite storage of nuclear waste as a result of its recent power uprate, and proposed license extension. VY's dry cask storage is 70 feet in the air, outside of the ma in reactor containment vessel.

  At press time, the attorney general's office was unable to comment, but was aware of the court ruling.

  The advisory panel that hears arguments on such contentions, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, denied Massachusetts' claim, which is now on appeal to the full five-member Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

  VY spokesman Rob Williams would only say the court decision is "currently under review."

  Sheehan said the agency continues to disagree with the Ninth Circuit's interpretation.

  "As indicated in the government's brief in the Supreme Court, the NRC and the United States do not agree with the Ninth Circuit decision holding that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires the agency to examine the environmental impacts of hypothetical terrorist attacks," said Sheehan. "In the NRC's view, the Atomic Energy Act (AEA), not the NEPA, is the appropriate tool for protecting nuclear facilities against nuclear attack. Since 9/11 the NRC has used its AEA authority aggressively to enhance security at nuclear facilities."

  In 2001 Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) applied to the NRC for a license to construct and operate the storage installation of spent fuel from two nuclear reactors at its Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in San Luis Obispo, CA.

  In June 2003, the public interest group Public Citizen and the San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace challenged the NRC's effort to bypass rulemaking procedures in addressing nuclear facilities' security against terrorist attacks. The NRC rejected the group's contentions and both groups petitioned the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals o review the NRC's decisions.

  In June 2006, the court ruled that the NRC erred in determining that the NEPA does not require the agency to consider the potential environmental impacts of terrorist attacks at nuclear facilities.

  PG&E appealed, seeking to overturn the decision and was rebuffed by the nation's highest court. The NRC is now responsible for addressing the impacts of an intentional attack and local environmental groups are elated with the decision.

  "This is a very important decision in terms of this meeting and in fact in terms of Vermont Yankee (VY), because the Supreme Court decision will hold for all licensing issues and what VY is attempting to do is be relicensed. So the commission now has to re-write the rules in terms of looking at environmental effects in terms of terrorism," said Deb Katz of the Citizens Action Network, which is opposed to VY's relicensure.

  Katz said because the Massachusetts Attorney General's claim hinges on this question of NEPA and terrorist attacks, it could mean their contentions would be reinstated and potentially delay

  Despite the clear message of the court ruling, Katz believe the NRC will just sweep the issue under the rug.

  "What they're going to attempt to say is, 'this is no big deal' and the issue of storing more waste in the fuel pool or having dry cask storage on site is no big deal or heating up the river is no big deal or the chemicals they have on site they may create plumes of contamination which are not clear whether that's happen is no big deal," said Katz. "Even though there may be some environmental impact, it's better to have a nuke than to have solar panels or a windmill farm. It's all about the environmental assessment."

  NRC officials are holding two public hearings on Entergy's relicensure application, and the NRC's draft environmental impact assessment of the nuclear power plant in Vernon.

  The 650-page preliminary document concluded that VY posed no adverse environmental impacts and that the conclusions should not restrict the company's request to operate beyond 2012.

  How the decision will affect the public hearing on Jan. 31 is unclear, but Ed Anthes of Nuclear Free Vermont believes it could shift things in terms of VY's license renewal.

  "Until this ruling, the NRC's position was that the environmental impact assessment did not have to address waste issues. That of course is one of the biggest problems with the reactor in Vernon is that there's no place to put the waste and so they've got some of it on the banks of the Connecticut River and most of it in a swimming pool on the 6th floor. So that now will have to be addressed," said Anthes. "It remains to be seen what the NRC is going to do. Will they go back and just do a supplement or will they cancel the meeting and we should know that within the next couple of days."


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