After Fukushima, Nine Groups Head to Court Over Vogtle Reactor Safety
WASHINGTON, DC, February 8, 2012 (ENS) – The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is expected to decide as early as Thursday whether to license two new reactors at the site of the Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia, but nine national, state and regional groups are asking the agency to delay its decision until the groups can file a challenge in federal court.
Within days, the groups say they will file legal action alleging that the NRC is violating federal law by issuing the license without considering the lessons of the catastrophic Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan touched off by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami on March 11, 2011 that shut down power to the plant’s cooling system. In the following week, three hydrogen gas explosions led to meltdowns of nuclear fuel and widespread release of radiation to air, land and sea in the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.
The groups say the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should require modification of the Vogtle operation and plans for the new reactors to protect public safety and the environment.
The Vogtle construction site as of August 2011 with Unit 3 site in the upper left and Unit 4 in the lower right (Photo by Southern Company)
They will ask the court to order the NRC to prepare a new environmental impact statement for the two reactors proposed at the Vogtle site that explains how cooling systems for the reactors and spent fuel storage pools will be upgraded to protect against earthquakes, flooding and prolonged loss of electric power to the site.
The groups are asking that the environmental impact statement detail how emergency equipment and plans for the nuclear plant will be revised to account for accidents affecting multiple reactors on the Vogtle site, as happened at Fukushima Daiichi.
The organizations are preparing to file their lawsuit next week in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. They will ask the NRC on Thursday to give the nine organizations time to review the licensing decision.
After their review, the groups say they will submit a formal motion to the NRC, asking the commissioners to suspend construction activities at Vogtle while the U.S. Court of Appeals is considering their case.
The nine organizations taking part in the legal action are: Friends of the Earth, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Center for a Sustainable Coast, Citizens Allied for Safe Energy, Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions, North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, Nuclear Information and Resource Service and Nuclear Watch South.
As part of the action, the organizations will challenge the validity of the Westinghouse-Toshiba AP1000 design, on which the new Vogtle reactors are based. (ENS, Nov. 11, 2011)
Meanwhile, beginning Thursday the three-member Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards will hear presentations and hold discussions on the implementation of the Japan task force recommendations at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Maryland.
The Japan task force was chartered to undertake a review of NRC’s processes and regulations to determine if the Commission should make additional improvements in regulations, and to give recommendations for policy direction.
During its three-day meeting, the Advisory Committee will hear presentations from NRC staff and members of the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry association.
Southern Company has already begun construction activities to prepare for the two new reactors at the Vogtle site. The license would allow Southern to complete construction of the containment, reactor cooling systems, spent fuel storage pools, and other major reactor components.
The organizations charge that these major structures could change if they are redesigned to take the lessons of the Fukushima accident into account, and therefore continued construction of the new Vogtle reactors could be wasting money and resources.
And if the license is disapproved in the lawsuit, or if Fukushima-related retrofits make the project too expensive to finish, utility ratepayers in Georgia could be stuck with the expense of a large and useless concrete mausoleum, similar to other abandoned reactor projects across the United States.
Separately, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has sued the Department of Energy for failing to disclose key information about the terms of DOE’s $8.3 billion loan guarantee for the new Vogtle reactors, especially the risk posed to U.S. taxpayers should the estimated $14 billion project default.
The organizations say they are concerned that utility customers and taxpayers have been forced to put more skin in the game than Southern Co. and its utility partners and shareholders.