Nuclear Waste Ruling Could Strengthen Vt. Court Case

06/12/12 5:50PM By John Dillon
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A federal court decision on nuclear waste could strengthen the state's hand as regulators review Vermont Yankee's bid to operate for another 20 years.

The state of Vermont was part of a lawsuit that challenged the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's decision to allow radioactive waste to be stored at nuclear plants around the country for 60 years or more.

Late last week, the federal appeals court in Washington agreed that the NRC failed to adequately assess the environmental impacts of using multiple storage sites.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell thinks the ruling provides an opening for Yankee opponents to question the economic and environmental impacts of storing nuclear waste in southern Vermont.

"That decision is going to be cited in any number of proceedings involving Vermont but (also) other states here going forward," Sorrell said.

Sorrell said the court of appeals ruling could bolster the state's case before the Public Service Board. Although Vermont Yankee already has a new federal license to run until 2032, it also needs a state permit - called a certificate of public good - from the PSB.

Sorrell said the board can look at economic issues. And he said the lack of a long-term storage site could pose an economic risk to Vermont.

"Here you've got under what was the NRC decision, 20 years of relicensing, and then the ability to store spent fuels on the Vermont Yankee site for another 60 years," he said. "So 80 years out of spent nuclear fuels being stored there, 60 of those supposedly after Vermont Yankee is no longer operating. And is that good for the state economy?"

Sandra Levine of the Conservation Law Foundation agrees.

"I expect it will be addressed by the Public Service Board. This decision affects the environmental aspects of the waste management and the lack of long term storage solutions for the waste at Vermont Yankee. And that has economic impacts on the operation of Vermont Yankee," she said.

The court of appeals looked at the long - and unsuccessful - history of the federal government's attempt to find a permanent solution to nuclear waste. Spent fuel roads remain highly dangerous for thousand of years, or, as the court put it, for "time spans seemingly beyond human comprehension."

So the court said it wasn't good enough for the NRC to allow the spent fuel to remain in storage pools for decades at each reactor site without a more detailed study of the risks. Those risks could include fires or leaks, the court said.

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