A federal court has rejected a nearly decade-long effort by the San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace for greater public oversight of safety issues surrounding Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant’s above-ground storage facility for highly radioactive used reactor fuel.
This week, a panel of three judges of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied requests by the watchdog group to require that the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission prepare a full review of the environmental impacts of a terrorist attack on the dry cask facility along with a closed-door hearing on the subject with the group’s attorney.
“The NRC’s refusal to grant SLOMFP a closed hearing and access to sensitive information was not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise contrary to the law,” wrote the judges in their ruling.
Spokesmen for the NRC and plant owner PG&E said they were pleased with the court’s ruling.
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Mothers for Peace spokeswoman Jane Swanson said the group is deciding whether to pursue further appeals. She said the purpose of the case was to hold the utility and regulatory agency to a higher level of public accountability.
Specifically, the group asked that its attorney Diane Curran, who has security clearance, be given a closed hearing where she could challenge the NRC’s assertion that no credible attack on the dry cask facility could do significant damage to the environment. Only Curran would have participated in the hearing; no Mothers for Peace activists would have attended.
“By denying SLOMFP the closed hearing it sought in this case, the court has effectively excused the NRC from accountability to the neighbors of Diablo Canyon for a licensing decision that could have profound adverse effects on public health and the environment,” Swanson said.
The case dates to 2002, when the NRC declined to do an analysis of the environmental damage a terrorist attack on the dry cask facility could cause. The main concern is that terrorists could breach the steel and concrete casks, ignite the fuel within and release radioactive contaminants into the environment.
In 2006, the court ordered the NRC to do such a study. The agency released an eight-page analysis, concluding the damage to the environment would be insignificant.
Mothers for Peace activists decried the analysis as woefully inadequate. They then requested a full environmental impact statement and the closed hearing.
The group remains undeterred by the legal setback, Swanson said. Mothers for Peace is busy with its latest legal challenge; an appeal of PG&E’s request to extend Diablo Canyon’s two operating licenses for 20 years each.
A panel of three administrative law judges within the NRC, called an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, has agreed to hear four of the Mothers for Peace’s challenges. A decision in that case could be a year or two away while the renewal process continues.