Beyond Nuclear to Challenge Decision in Federal Court
Nukewatch Quarterly Summer 2020
In an astounding, extra-legal ruling April 23, 2020, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) acknowledged that a company’s formal application to place a large quantity of highly radioactive irradiated nuclear reactor fuel waste in southeast New Mexico violates federal law, and yet ruled that the unlawful provisions of the company’s license application could be ignored and the license approved.
The national watchdog organization Beyond Nuclear formally challenged the NRC’s authority to approve the application. The basis for the challenge was that the application suggests that the US Department of Energy (DOE) may become the owner of the waste reactor fuel even as it is stored on the property of the private, for-profit firm Holtec International (See “Public Weighing in on Environmental Impact Statement of Holtec and ISP CIS”) The US Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) prohibits the federal government from taking ownership, and therefore financial liability, of waste reactor fuel rods (currently the private property of reactor companies) until after a federal repository for permanent disposal is operating. This illegality was explicitly acknowledged in the NRC’s decision.
Liability for the waste is a game-ending challenge for the nuclear industry, since its high-level radioactive waste is ferociously deadly for about one-million years. Once ownership of the waste changes hands, liability for radiation accidents—failed waste cask loading, transport crashes, breaks or leaks from faulty casks, failure of underground storage containers or systems (like one in February 2014 at New Mexico’s WIPP site)—moves from the industry that created the cancer-causing waste to US tax payers.
Nevertheless the NRC threw out Beyond Nuclear’s challenge to the project on the grounds that Holtec could be depended on not to implement the unlawful provision if the license were granted. Kevin Kamps, radioactive waste specialist for Beyond Nuclear, said about the shocking NRC decision: “On behalf of our members and supporters in New Mexico, and across the country along the road, rail, and waterway routes in most states, that would be used to haul the high risk, high-level radioactive waste out west, we will appeal the NRC Commissioners’ bad ruling to the federal court.” —JL
— Carlsbad Current-Argus, May 2; and Beyond Nuclear, Apr. 27, 2020