WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. – A court battle between New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission over long-term storage of nuclear waste could hold up the license renewal process at the Indian Point Nuclear power plants in Buchanan.
According to a statement Friday afternoon from the attorney general's office, "The NRC cannot license or re-license any nuclear power plant, including the Indian Point facility in Westchester County, until it examines the dangers and consequences of long-term on-site storage of nuclear waste."
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sided with Schneiderman in a lawsuit challenging the NRC's review of the safety of long-term, on-site storage of high-level nuclear waste, such as that produced at Indian Point.
As of January 2011, about 63,000 metric tons of commercial nuclear waste was estimated to be stored on site at nuclear power plants across the U.S. The amount of spent fuel in storage at individual commercial nuclear power plants is expected to increase at a rate of about 2,000 metric tons per year, according to Neil Sheehan, a spokesperson for the NRC.
The court found that the NRC's current regulation violated the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires agency actions take into account environmental, public health and safety risks.
According to the attorney general's statement, the court found that the NRC violated the law when it found “reasonable assurance” that sufficient, licensed, off-site storage capacity will be available to dispose of nuclear power plant waste “when necessary.”
The appeals court wrote that the NRC “apparently has no long-term plan other than hoping for a geologic repository," according to the attorney general's office.
"Whether you're for or against re-licensing Indian Point and our nation’s aging nuclear power plants, the security of our residents who live in the areas that surround these facilities is paramount," Schneiderman said in the statement. "I am committed to continuing to use the full force of my office to push the NRC to fully evaluate – and ensure – the safety of Indian Point and our other nuclear plants."
Since 2010, when the Yucca Mountain, Nevada, waste storage project was abandoned by the federal government, no new long-term geologic storage sites for nuclear waste have been identified.
Spent fuel is stored on site at the nation's 106 active nuclear reactors, both in cooling pools and in dry cask storage. The NRC had found that such long-term storage was safe and had no adverse environmental impacts.
In Friday's ruling the court overturned that finding and sent the matter back to the NRC for review. A timeline for compliance probably will be issued by the court, Sheehan said.