NRC Rejects NWEA’s Raising of Fukushima Issues in Relicensing of the Columbia Generating Station/WPPSS No. 2 Nuclear Power Plant

After the meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power reactors in Japan, NWEA sought to participate in the process to extend the operating license of the CGS reactor.  The Fukushima reactors are all General Electric boiling water reactors with what is termed a Mark I containment system.  The CGS reactor at Hanford is a Mark II.  The current 40-year operating license expires in 2023 and Energy Northwest, which operates the reactor, is seeking a 20-year license extension.

Working with intervenors in reactor licensing proceedings across the country, NWEA first filed a petition with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), asking it to create an organized plan to address Fukushima in all these proceedings.  The Commission ignored the petition.   Then, again in tandem with other groups, NWEA filed a petition seeking legal status in the operating license extension proceeding for the CGS reactor.  The panel of NRC judges rejected NWEA’s effort to discuss Fukushima-related issues insofar as they concern the CGS reactor in October and again in November.

Our premise was simple: while the Atomic Energy Act grants the NRC virtually unfettered discretion to determine whether reactors are safe enough, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – the law known for requiring Environmental Impact Statements – requires the agency to disclose the environmental impacts of a federal action before taking it.  Stated another way, the NRC can take years if not decades to incorporate the “lessons learned” from the Fukushima accident into how U.S. reactors are required to operate and how we determine if they are safe, but NEPA requires an evaluation of the risks to human health up front, as in now.

Although the NRC has a rule that says a member of the public cannot wait more than 30 days to file an issue in a licensing proceeding, the panel of NRC judges determined that NWEA’s  raising issues about Fukushima is “prematurely advanced”!