by Nick Welsh

In a victory for anti-nuclear activists, the 9th Circuit Court
of Appeals ruled that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) must
consider the environmental consequences of a potential terrorist
attack on a proposed nuclear fuel storage area at the Diablo Canyon
nuclear power plant in San Luis Obispo County. The court rejected
the NRC’s longstanding contention that the prospect of a terrorist
attack is too speculative to fall under the jurisdiction of the
National Environmental Policy Act. Jane Swanson of Mothers for
Peace hailed the decision as a monumental victory, noting it could
have significant nationwide impact at a time when the Bush
administration is plugging nuclear energy. Jeff Lewis —
spokesperson for Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), which owns
Diablo Canyon — said the ruling will not stop construction of the
new spent fuel storage facility. He minimized the ruling as “merely
procedural,” explaining that although PG&E and the NRC have
resisted legislating environmental analysis of a terrorist threat,
the matter has always been an intense security concern.

Mothers for Peace, the Sierra Club, and former county supervisor
Peg Pinard sued the NRC three years ago when the federal agency
approved plans to erect as many as 138 massive casks to hold highly
radioactive spent nuclear fuels. In the absence of a national
repository for spent nuclear fuels, PG&E insisted Diablo Canyon
would run out of storage space in its cooling ponds by 2007. (The
company now contends that deadline could be extended to 2010.)
Mothers for Peace complained that the casks would be lined up like
20-foot tall bowling pins, providing an enticing target for
would-be terrorists; Lewis countered it would be “easier to defend
one site as opposed to multiple sites.” The 9th Circuit Court
expressed sympathy with the NRC’s concern that plant security might
be compromised by revealing Diablo Canyon’s defense strategies, but
faulted the agency for refusing to hear the public’s security
suggestions and concerns. It’s unclear whether PG&E or the NRC
will appeal the court’s ruling.


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