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Court rejects challenges to NRC approval of Vogtle license, reactor design

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A federal appeals court on May 14 denied a petition by environmental groups to review Nuclear Regulatory Commission decisions to grant combined licenses for construction and operation of the Vogtle nuclear units 3 and 4 and to approve an amendment to Westinghouse Electric Co.’s AP1000 reactor design. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the groups’ arguments that the NRC should have delayed acting until it had considered and implemented the recommendations of its task force on the Fukushima accident in Japan.

The NRC’s environmental impact statement for the new units "addressed and dismissed precisely the risks that gave rise to the Fukushima accident," the court said in Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League v. NRC. Without an explanation from the environmental groups "as to what specific ‘new and significant’ environmental information NRC failed to consider, or what deficiency in the existing [environmental impact statement] it failed to rectify, NRC reasonably found that [the groups’] contentions did not warrant a contested hearing," the judges added.

The court also found that the environmental groups’ contentions lacked specific links between the Fukushima accident and the Vogtle site. There was no evidence or even allegation linking the Vogtle site to the recommendations of the NRC’s Fukushima task force, the court said.

The NRC reasonably declined to supplement its existing environmental assessment of the AP1000 design, the court said. In considering the amendment to the design, the commission "re-examined the probability that a severe accident might occur and concluded that the potential design changes did not affect its original evaluations." —ROBERT VARELA


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