New York Takes Issue with NRC Plan to Dump Nuclear Wastes

The attorney general is suing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for authorizing nuclear power plants to dispose of radioactive wastes at Indian Point for 60 Years after closure, without a mandated review.

New York is suing the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for approving a regulation that would allow the use of Indian Point and nuclear power facilities across the nation as storage sites for radioactive waste for at least 60 years after their closure, according to a press release from state's Attorney General Eric T. Scheiderman.

The NRC’s approval would allow the long-term storage of nuclear waste without completing the federally required review of the public health, safety, and environmental hazards such storage would pose.

“Whether you're for or against re-licensing Indian Point, we can all agree on one thing: Before dumping radioactive waste at the site for at least 60 years after it’s closed, our communities deserve a thorough review of the environmental, public health, and safety risks such a move would present,” said Schneiderman. “This is not just a safety and environmental issue, but also one that could affect property values in Westchester, and I am committed to forcing the feds to take the hardest look possible at the risks of long-term onsite storage, before they allow our communities to become blighted and our families, properties, and businesses threatened by radioactive waste dumps for generations to come.”

In the lawsuit, Schneiderman challenges both an NRC rule amending federal regulations and its “Waste Confidence Decision Update” – both issued on Dec. 23, 2010 – as violating two federal laws, the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The APA governs the way in which federal administrative agencies may propose and establish regulations, while NEPA requires federal government agencies to study the environmental impacts of proposed federal agency actions.

The attorney general charges that the NRC violated the two federal laws when it found – without conducting the necessary studies – that no significant safety or environmental impacts will result from storing highly radioactive nuclear wastes onsite at the more than 100 operating reactors around the country, including from the three Indian Point reactors in Westchester County, for 60 or more years after the reactors are closed.

Schneiderman further charges that the NRC violated these laws when it found “reasonable assurance” that sufficient, licensed, off-site storage capacity will be available to dispose of nuclear power plant waste “when necessary.” Efforts to site the only nuclear waste storage facility in the United States, the Yucca Mountain Repository in Nevada, were suspended in 2010 and no replacement facility has yet been identified.

The attorney general argues in the lawsuit that full compliance with the APA and NEPA require the NRC to conduct a site-by-site analysis of the potential for environmental, health and safety impacts. An analysis of this type, if conducted thoroughly and objectively, would identify any environmental, health and safety risks related to long-term, onsite storage of radioactive waste at each site, as well as those mitigation measures (such as increased groundwater monitoring, reinforced containment structures, or repair of leaking spent fuel pools) needed to fully address them.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, asks the court to invalidate the rule and remand it back to NRC with a directive that the commission fully comply with APA and NEPA.