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Public Participation is the Heart of a Case Involving the NRC

An appeals court has ruled that public participation, nearly all the time, must be included when federal regulators consider granting safety exemptions to nuclear power plants. Monday’s ruling has to do with a fire-safety exemption that was granted for Indian Point 3. The case is Brodsky versus the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and it falls under the National Environmental Policy Act.  Former New York State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky argued the case on behalf of a group of plaintiffs, including the Sierra Club-Atlantic Chapter, and Westchester’s Citizens Awareness Network. In this week’s ruling, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated part of a district court ruling involving an exemption to fire-safety rules. Here’ Nuclear Regulatory Commission Spokesman Neil Sheehan:

The exemption allowed the Indian Point 3 nuclear power plant in New York’s Westchester County to use a fire barrier rated to last 24 minutes, when the insulation is usually required to last an hour.  At issue, though, is not the exemption itself, per se, but the public’s right to weigh in on the NRC’s decision to grant such an exemption. Phillip Musegaas is the Hudson River Program Director and an attorney with environmental-advocacy group Riverkeeper. And while Riverkeeper was not a plaintiff in this case, the Westchester County-based group has been involved in past legal battles with the NRC, and wants to see Indian Point shut down.

Plaintiffs argued that the NRC violated public-participation rules, and the appeals court said public input is required unless it would be inappropriate or impractical. Riverkeeper’s Musegaas points out that while the particular exemption in this case applies to a fire-protection rule, the NRC can grant and has granted at various power plants, exemptions to other health and safety regulations.

The Appeals Court remanded the case to the District Court and is requiring the NRC to appear, and explain why public participation was inappropriate or impractical. Again, here’s NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan.

He had no further comment on the case, other than to point out that the NRC early last year turned down the majority of Indian Point’s exemption requests regarding fire safety measures.

As for the case, Riverkeeper’s Phillip Musegaas says there are ramifications nationwide.

Jerry Nappi is a spokesman for Entergy Nuclear Northeast,  Indian Point’s parent.

The license renewal for Indian Point 2 is due September this year, and in 2015, for Indian Point 3.