Environmental Protection

New Jersey to Join Spent Nuclear Fuel Rule Lawsuit

Three other states already have filed against the Nuclear Regulatory Agency for its 60-year storage standard.

New Jersey has sought permission from a federal appeals court to join a legal action with New York, Vermont, and Connecticut that challenges a federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission rule that extends the time allowed for storing spent nuclear fuel at nuclear power plants from 30 years to a 60 years past the licensed life of a reactor, N.J. Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin announced on March 15.

The challenge, filed with the U.S. Appellate Court for the District of Columbia Circuit, contends the NRC acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in developing the new 60-year rule and failed to perform an environmental impact statement as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

"We are joining in this challenge because of the potential of significant public health and safety implications, and the potential impact on New Jersey's environment,'' said Martin.

New Jersey has four operating nuclear reactors that are affected by NRC rules:

  • Oyster Creek in Lacey Township,
  • Hope Creek in Lower Alloways Creek, and
  • two units at the Salem Nuclear Generating Station in Lower Alloways Creek.

The 60-year rule would apply to radioactive waste stored at each of those plants after they close.

DEP and Exelon Corp., which owns and operates Oyster Creek, entered into an administrative consent order agreement in December that calls for Oyster Creek to cease operations by the end of 2019, which is 10 years earlier than its NRC license permits operation. That agreement allows Exelon to store its spent nuclear fuel on site until the Department of Energy accepts it for permanent storage at a geological repository.

The NRC, however, has provided no assurances that such a storage facility will be available. The federal government last year announced it was ending consideration of creating a spent nuclear fuel depository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

The NRC in 1990 initiated its "Waste Confidence Rule,'' finding that spent fuel from nuclear power plants could be stored safely and without significant environmental impacts for at least 30 years beyond the licensed life of a nuclear power plant. The NRC has subsequently issued an expanded 60-year rule.

In February, New York, Vermont and Connecticut filed a petition for review of the NRC rule. The Natural Resources Defense Council, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Riverkeeper and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, sought to join that action.

Source: New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection

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