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Federal court rules against NRC on waste storage at nuclear plants

RED WING - The United States Court of Appeals unanimously rejected Friday a decision by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to store radioactive waste at nuclear power plants for 60 years after they close.

According to a previous version of the Waste Confidence Decision, waste would be stored at the plants for 30 years after closing. But an amendment made by the NRC in December of 2010 doubled the time period.

"Basically what the NRC did is they sort of went in and waved their regulatory wand," said Philip Mahowald, general counsel to the Prairie Island Indian Community.

Upset with the decision, the states of New York, Connecticut and Vermont filed for an appeal in February last year. The state of New Jersey and the Prairie Island Indian Community filed for appeal soon after, as did several environmental groups.

Their main contention was the health and safety hazards that would come about if long-term storage of nuclear waste would be located at local sites.

"When there's a major federal action, a federal agency is required to take a look at the potential environmental impacts," Mahowald explained. "Here they just amended the rule without taking a good hard look and doing a full environmental impact study."

"Had the federal government had its way today, more than 4,350 tons of radioactive nuclear waste would have been automatically approved for long-term storage along the Mississippi River until at least 2094 -- with no comprehensive environmental impact study, despite Prairie Island's dry casks being located on our ancestral homeland 600 yards from our homes and along a recognized floodplain," Prairie Island Tribal Council President Johnny Johnson said.

With the Court of Appeals decision vacating the most recently amended regulation to the Waste Confidence Decision, the NRC now has to do a more comprehensive review of on-site storage.