Massachusetts v. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Date: February 25th, 2013

Topic: Energy

Type: Administrative Proceeding, Lawsuit vs. Federal Government

Jurisdiction: Massachusetts

The Atomic Energy Act and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulations limit commercial nuclear power reactor licenses to an initial 40 years but also permit such licenses to be renewed. The renewal process is codified in 10 C.F.R. Part 51 and 10 C.F.R. Part 54. In 2012, the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant was due for license renewal. Following the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011, the Massachusetts AG petitioned the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) to delay a final relicensing decision pending NRC consideration of new information raised by that disaster. The AG argued that an accident involving the spent fuel pool at Pilgrim would present a significant risk to public safety and the environment and challenged the severe accident mitigation alternatives analysis in the final supplemental environmental impact statement. ASLB denied the petition. The AG then appealed the ASLB’s decision to the broader Commission. The NRC denied the petition for review. The plant’s license was renewed in May 2012.

The AG then appealed the NRC’s decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. There the AG argued that NRC failed to file supplemental analysis on the environmental impacts of relicensing in light of purported new and significant information learned from Fukushima, violating the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and NRC regulations. The court denied the petition for review, finding that  NRC met its obligation under NEPA to take a hard look at the environmental consequences of the Pilgrim plant license renewal and that its decisions were not arbitrary or capricious.

Citation: Massachusetts v. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Com’n, 708 F.3d 63 (1st Cir. 2013)

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