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Secretive or security-minded? 

Lawsuit over Diablo radioactive waste storage reaches federal court of appeals

PG&E's plan to store spent radioactive fuel rods in large concrete casks at Diablo Canyon is facing a legal challenge by the San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, the Sierra Club, and former county supervisor Peg Pinard.

A San Francisco federal court of appeals heard arguments on Oct. 17 against the dry-cask storage plan. Mothers for Peace, the Sierra Club, and Pinard question the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's approval of the above-ground storage project, claiming the public was shut out of planning process by the NRC.

After 9/11, the NRC issued secret security update measures to nuclear power companies, said Diane Curran, attorney for Mothers for Peace, the Sierra Club, and Pinard. "In general the NRC has been very secretive about its measures after 9/11. In effect they completely shut out the public in the decision-making process, and at the same time the nuclear industry has complete access."

But Jeff Lewis, spokesperson for PG&E, says there's a reason that some security measures are kept secret.

"The idea being if you reveal enough information about the nature [of the security], then you compromise [the security]," he said.

Curran argues that the public needs to be involved and has to be allowed to at least give input. Whether or not the NRC decides to implement those recommendations is another story.

"The effects of a terrorist attack on the steel casks could be devastating," said Curran in a press release. "Our expert study found that if only two casks were breached, an area more than half the size of Connecticut could be rendered uninhabitable."

If Mothers for Peace et al. win the lawsuit, it could force the NRC to complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which would reveal Diablo Canyon's security measures to the public and allow for public comment.

Although PG&E has already begun construction of the dry-cask storage facility, Curran thinks there are other feasible options that should be considered. If the Ninth Circuit Judges in San Francisco side with Mothers for Peace, Sierra Club, and Pinard, then the NRC would be forced to hear public comment.

Curran and the plaintiffs contend that the casks of radioactive spent fuel rods are vulnerable to terrorist attack because they are stored above-ground. Alternative dry-cask storage plans include storing the spent rods in bunkers, in more robust casks, or scattered over the property to avoid providing a big potential target for an air strike, said Curran.

"These are all feasible alternatives for minimizing the impacts of a terrorist attack on the Diablo Canyon facility. The NRC had no lawful basis to ignore them," said Curran.

According to a press release, the attorneys general representing California, Washington, Utah, Massachusetts, and the San Luis Obispo City Council filed briefs in support of the plaintiffs.

Lewis said the NRC has increased security measures for the plant and the dry-cask storage project since 9/11, and PG&E has repeatedly met those demands. "We're going to meet or exceed all the requirements they make."

NRC spokesperson Victor Dricks is mum about it all, explaining via e-mail that "the matter is under litigation and we are unable to comment about the case."


Staff Writer John Peabody can be reached at


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