Environmental groups ask court to reverse nuclear plant exemption

By Shannon Kelleher

Regulators violated federal law in granting an exemption to keep California’s last nuclear power plant operating past 2025, when the 40-year-old plant was originally set to shutter operations, environmental groups argued in a court hearing this week.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) could only legally grant Pacific Gas & Electric Power Co. (PG&E), the plant’s operator, an exemption from a license renewal rule in the Atomic Energy Act if the agency expressed confidence that there was time to conduct environmental and safety reviews and to hold a public hearing before the reactors’ licenses expired, Diane Curran, counsel to the local nonprofit San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, told a three-judge panel hearing the case in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“If they don’t make that finding, they’re putting public health and safety at risk without justification,” Curran told the court. “The safety guardrails that the Atomic Energy Act puts on nuclear reactors can’t be just thrown out the window, which has happened here. The NRC has never abandoned its original finding that to operate a reactor past 40 years raises new and significant safety concerns that need to be addressed in the license renewal process.”

San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, Friends of the Earth (FOE) and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) filed a lawsuit against the NRC in June, alleging that the agency violated the Atomic Energy Act when it issued the exemption. The groups have raised concerns about safety issues at the Diablo Canyon power plant, including deteriorating equipment and earthquake risk.