Appeal Court Errs in Fukushima Vogtle/AP1000 Order

Guest Blog | May 14, 2013 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, D.C. – May 14, 2013 – In the wake of a ruling today by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., attorneys for nine groups that sought to slow down the Vogtle nuclear reactor project so that necessary post-Fukushima environmental and safety enhancements could be implemented by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued the following statement. The three attorneys – Diane Curran of Harmon, Curran, Spielberg & Eisenberg, LLP in Washington, D.C.; Mindy Goldstein, director of Turner Environmental Law Clinic at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta; and John Runkle of Chapel Hill, NC — said: “We believe that the Court of Appeals erred in siding today with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The court upheld the NRC’s refusal to supplement its environmental impact statement (EIS) for the new Vogtle reactors and their underlying design to address the environmental consequences of delaying safety upgrades recommended by the NRC’s high-level Fukushima Task Force. After the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, the NRC recognized that it needed to upgrade its safety and environmental protection standards but did not do so. The Task Force called the Fukushima accident a second warning and urged the NRC to review and strengthen its safety standards for all nuclear reactors, including Vogtle. But the NRC has delayed that too. We are very concerned that the court has allowed the NRC to kick the can down the road once again. The court made two major errors. First, it found that the petitioner citizen groups had not explicitly stated how their concerns related to the Vogtle reactors. But the NRC had already said its recommendation to upgrade safety standards applied to all reactors, including Vogtle. Federal environmental law gives NRC the burden of showing it has protected the environment. The court effectively told the public to do the government’s job. Of course that is not possible for small citizen groups – that is why they turn to federal regulators. The court also said the Task Force recommendations were about safety, not environmental protection. But human safety is one of the key concerns of the National Environmental Policy Act, which calls for protection of the ‘human environment.’ It is worth remembering that attendance at the only hearing the NRC has held on the question of whether the NRC should supplement the EIS for Vogtle was limited to Southern Nuclear Operating Co. and the NRC technical staff. The NRC would not let the public participate and refused these groups’ request for a hearing on the very same issue. We should have learned from the Japanese accident that such a cozy relationship between industry and government regulators leads to complacency and poor regulatory decisions. Finally, we feel strongly about the need to emphasize that the people who have the most to lose here – the ones who are living in the shadows of the current Vogtle reactor towers – are the ones who wanted the NRC to do a proper post-Fukushima environmental review. In this situation, these people are the counterparts to the citizens of Fukushima and their concerns should have been addressed in a serious-minded way.” On February 17, 2012, nine environmental groups filed a challenge to the certification of the Vogtle reactor design. The nine groups are the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Center for a Sustainable Coast, Citizens Allied for Safe Energy, Friends of the Earth, Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions, North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Nuclear Watch South, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. These same nine groups filed a challenge to the Vogtle license a month later. Today’s decision resolves both challenges. The groups will now consider whether they will ask the court to reconsider its decision. Find additional information, including relevant legal documents and testimonies here. A letter to the Court Clerk from the petitioners was submitted in early March and can be found here.