Groups Petition NRC to Suspend Nuclear Projects

April 15, 2011
Request includes an independent commission to conduct risk assessment.

A coalition of 45 groups and individuals has petitioned the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to suspend all activities planned for 21 proposed nuclear reactor projects in 15 states, the coalition said April 14.

The coalition has requested a moratorium on licensing and other activities until the NRC completes a thorough risk assessment following the Fukushima reactor crisis in Japan. The group has also asked the NRC to supplement its investigation with an independent commission.

Among the groups represented are the National Parks Conservation Association, the Sierra Club's Michigan and South Carolina chapters and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service.

The group's request includes the suspension of six existing reactor license renewal decisions, construction and licensing of 13 new reactor projects. In addition, the petition asks the NRC to halt approval of standardized AP1000 reactor design by Westinghouse Electric Co. and the Economic Simplified Boiling-Water Reactor design by GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy.

The NRC has received the petition and is in the process of reviewing it, said NRC spokesman Scott Burnell.

The petition was unusual because it does not fall into any of the categories people typically use to ask the commission to take a particular action, Burnell said. There is no timetable at the moment for when the NRC will issue a response, Burnell said.

The petition explains that the action is needed to review safety and environmental implications of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Okumu, Japan.

An attorney for the petitioners accused the NRC of violating the law by relicensing the Vermont Yankee reactor at the same time it launched an investigation into the strength of U.S. safety and environmental standards following the Fukushima disaster.

"The National Environmental Policy Act requires the NRC to learn and apply the lessons of Fukushima before it allows another reactor to operate," said Diane Curran of Harmon, Curran, Spielberg & Eisenberg LLP. "By establishing a task force and ordering the investigation of the regulatory implications of the Fukushima accident for U.S. reactors, the NRC has obligated itself to consider those implications in all prospective licensing decisions. We demand that the NRC establish a credible process for studying and applying the lessons learned from the Fukushima accident, in keeping with the precedent created after Three Mile Island."

But NRC's Burnell said the agency completed its review of the Vermont Yankee reactor long before the Fukushima incident occurred.

"To connect the two and our post-earthquake review is an interesting logical exercise," Burnell said.

The Fukushima accident highlights major risks in nuclear plants, including inadequate backup power arrangements and the unavailability of freshwater for cooling functions, said Arjun Makhijani, president, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research.

"Continuing business as usual in licensing and reactor certification in the face of the unprecedented, hugely complicated, and ongoing Fukushima accident would be rash and contrary to the mandate of the NRC to ensure safety and protect public health," Makhijani said.

See Also:

GE Says Nuclear Industry Has 'Safe' Record

GE Defends Nuclear Plant Design

U.S. Delivers Coolant to Japanese Nuclear Reactor

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