New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that he is suing the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for approving a regulation that would allow the use of Indian Point and nuclear power facilities
across the nation as storage sites for radioactive waste
for at least 60 years after their closure. The NRC’s approval would allow the long-term storage of nuclear waste without completing the federally required review of the public health, safety and environmental hazards
such storage would pose. Attorney General Schneiderman is leading a coalition of state attorneys general, including Connecticut
and Vermont’s, in calling on the federal government to conduct necessary impact studies before deciding that nuclear waste should be stored onsite.
“Whether you're for or against re-licensing Indian Point, we can all agree on one thing: Before dumping radioactive waste at the site for at least 60 years after it’s closed, our communities deserve a thorough review of the environmental, public health, and safety risks such a move would present,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “This is not just a safety and environmental issue, but also one that could affect property values in Westchester, and I am committed to forcing the feds to take the hardest look possible at the risks of long-term, onsite storage, before they allow our communities to become blighted and our families, properties, and businesses threatened by radioactive waste dumps for generations to come.”
In the lawsuit filed today, Attorney General Schneiderman challenges both a NRC rule amending federal regulations and its “Waste Confidence Decision Update” – both issued on December 23, 2010 – as violating two federal laws, the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The APA is a federal law that governs the way in which federal administrative agencies may propose and establish regulations, while the NEPA is a federal law requiring federal government agencies to study the environmental impacts of proposed federal agency actions.
The Attorney General charges that the NRC violated the two federal laws when it found – without conducting the necessary studies – that no significant safety or environmental impacts will result from storing highly radioactive nuclear wastes onsite at the more than 100 operating reactors around the country, including from the three Indian Point reactors in Westchester County, for 60 or more years after the reactors are closed.
Attorney General Schneiderman further charges that the NRC violated these laws when it found “reasonable assurance” that sufficient, licensed, off-site storage capacity will be available to dispose of nuclear power plant waste “when necessary.” Efforts to site the only nuclear waste storage facility in the United States, the Yucca Mountain Repository in Nevada, were suspended in 2010 and no replacement facility has yet been identified.
The Attorney General argues in the lawsuit that full compliance with the APA and NEPA require the NRC to conduct a site-by-site analysis of the potential for environmental, health and safety impacts. An analysis of this type, if conducted thoroughly and objectively, would identify any environmental, health and safety risks related to long-term, onsite storage of radioactive waste at each site, as well as those mitigation measures (such as increased groundwater monitoring, reinforced containment structures, or repair of leaking spent fuel pools) needed to fully address them.
Paul Gallay, Executive Director and Hudson Riverkeeper, said, “We applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for challenging a decision by the NRC that defies science, logic and common sense. Last month, we filed an action with Hudson River Sloop Clearwater which faulted the NRC for its plans for allowing the storage of this hazardous waste at Indian Point. We are fully behind the Attorney General’s efforts and look forward to working together to ensure that Indian Point's nuclear waste does not sit on the banks of the Hudson River, wreaking further havoc on our environment for decades to come.”
Manna Jo Greene, Environmental Director of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, said, “The NRC’s failure to study the impacts of allowing our communities to become radioactive waste sites for generations to come is both outrageous and dangerous. The potential environmental, health and safe threats posed by long-term, onsite storage of large amounts of nuclear waste may be an inconvenient truth for the NRC, but it is very real for many New Yorkers. We applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for challenging the NRC’s blatant and reckless disregard for the well-being of our communities.”
Since taking office, Attorney General Schneiderman has fought to put the health and safety of New Yorkers first. In January, he filed a lawsuit against a Pennsylvania-based power plant for violating the Clean Air Act and threatening New York’s air quality. Earlier this week, Schneiderman led a coalition of state attorneys general in calling on the U.S. House of Representatives to keep critical environmental regulations protecting New Yorkers from mercury and other toxins hazardous to human health and the environment.
The lawsuit, filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, asks the Court to invalidate the rule and remand it back to NRC with a directive that the Commission fully comply with the APA and NEPA.
The NRC is a federal government agency, headed by five Commissioners, established by the Energy Reorganization Act in 1974 as a successor to the disbanded United States Atomic Energy Commission. The Commission’s responsibilities include reactor safety and security, reactor licensing and renewal, radioactive material safety, security and licensing, and spent fuel management (storage, security, reprocessing, and disposal).
This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Janice Dean and John Sipos of the Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Bureau and Assistant Solicitor General Monica Wagner, under the supervision of Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice, Janet Sabel.