An appeals court tells Nuclear Regulatory Commission to study the effect of an attack on Diablo Canyon CA plant

June 3, 2006, LOS ANGELES TIMES, Henry Weinstein, Times Staff Writer -- Since Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush and other federal officials have frequently warned that the nation's nuclear power plants are vulnerable to terrorist attack.

But when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission took up a proposal to expand spent nuclear fuel storage facilities at the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, the agency said the possibility of a terrorist assault was so "speculative" that no environmental review was needed.

On Friday, however, a federal appeals court in San Francisco ordered the agency to conduct such a review of the possible consequences of a terrorist attack on the expansion at the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. facility on the Central California Coast near near San Luis Obispo.

In a 3-0 decision, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the commission violated federal environmental laws by failing to undertake the review.

The appeals court held that it was unreasonable for the agency to declare "without support" that "the possibility of a terrorist speculative..." and "inconsistent with the government's efforts and expenditures to combat terrorist attacks at the nation's nuclear power plants in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The Diablo Canyon case is one of five in which the commission said no environmental analysis of a terrorist threat was necessary in licensing a nuclear plant, according to court documents, but the first to generate a decision from a federal appeals court.

...The court spurned the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's contention that it could not comply with federal environmental laws in this instance because of security risks. "There is no support for the use of security concerns as an excuse" to deviate from the law, Thomas wrote, quoting an earlier 9th Circuit decision that held "there is no 'national defense' exception to the National Environmental Policy Act."

..."The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have removed any shred of credibility from the NRC's stance that terrorist attacks on nuclear facilities are 'speculative' events that cannot be predicted," Washington attorney Diane Curran, who represents the Mothers for Peace, said during her oral argument in October.

Curran emphasized that under the expansion plan, 140 spent fuel storage casks are to be placed on an exposed hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean. "The effect of a terrorist attack on the steel casks could be devastating," Curran warned in her argument. "Our expert study found that if only two casks were breached, an area more than half the size of the state of Connecticut could be rendered uninhabitable."

© 2006 Los Angeles Times

Thank God for those "activist judges."


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