NRC Dismisses Pilgrim Watch Again, Freezes Licensing Process on 19 Plants
Another Pilgrim Watch contention has been dismissed by the NRC, but the NRC has frozen all construction and licensing processes after court decides agency's nuclear waste management plan was inconsistent with federal environmental standards.
For the third time since a majority of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a new license to Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, Pilgrim Watch and the Jones River Watershed Association have moved to reopen the proceeding on the grounds that Entergy, Pilgrim's owner, lacks necessary approvals for the plant from various federal and state government agencies under a variety of regulatory requirements, and that the NRC must supplement the plant's environmental impact statement to reflect the missing permits and approvals.
Pilgrim and the JRWA claim that Entergy circumvented state and federal environmental regulations for the plant and that the NRC must supplement its final environmental statement to reflect that.
The NRC dismissed the contentions on the grounds that they were not presented in a timely fashion and that the contention did not include new information that would excuse the untimeliness.
This announcement comes on the coattails of the NRC's announcement that it will freeze the relicensing process on 19 plants until the agency addresses problems with its nuclear waste policy.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the decision comes two months after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the NRC's approach to managing nuclear waste was inconsistent with federal environmental standards.
Until the ruling, the NRC had relied on what is known as the Waste Confidence Decision when issuing new licenses for proposed plants and extending the licenses of existing plants. Under that doctrine, the NRC said it could issue licenses because it had confidence that the U.S. eventually would create a permanent repository. But the Obama administration's elimination of funding for a proposed repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada made that assertion less believable.
The move, while not expected to affect any nuclear plants right away, shows how the standstill in finding a permanent American nuclear waste dump could undermine the expansion of nuclear power, which is already facing a challenge from cheaper natural gas.
The NRC's move on Tuesday could delay licensing decisions for a year or more, depending on how long it takes the agency to fix the problems identified by the court.
Even a multiyear delay would not cause existing reactors to shut down. They can continue to operate so long as they sought extensions at least five years before their licenses expired.
Pilgrim was given a new operating license in May.