By Angeljean Chiaramida
---- — BOSTON — The U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a petition filed against the Nuclear Regulatory Agency by three anti-nuclear groups, ruling the agency was within the law in denying them a hearing to challenge NextEra Energy Seabrook’s nuclear power plant’s application to extend its operating license 20 years, from 2030 to 2050.
In August , Maryland-based Beyond Nuclear, Exeter’s Seacoast Anti-Pollution League and the New Hampshire Chapter of the Sierra Club brought suit in the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. They appealed the NRC’s reversal of an earlier ruling by the commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board that would have allowed the groups to challenge Seabrook Station’s re-licensing application based on the future potential of offshore, deep-water wind generation in the Gulf of Maine, which they consider an energy alternative to the nuclear energy Seabrook Station provides.
Although not among those in this court fight, Newburyport-based Seabrook Station watchdog group, C-10, was in favor of the petition and believed the petitioners should have been granted a hearing.
“The decision by a Boston federal court to deny an appeal by three environmental groups challenging the 20-year license extension for the Seabrook nuclear plant comes on the heels of a $200 million grant by the Department of Energy for offshore wind power development,” said C-10 executive director Sandra Gavutis. “With federal and private funding, Maine plans to build enough offshore wind capacity to equal four Seabrooks. Is the nuclear industry going to be the voice for the next generation when it comes to sustainable energy choices?”
The three petitioners claimed in their appeal that the NRC caused them “procedural injury,” by reversing the ASLB decision. They claimed that by its reversal the NRC misapplied National Environmental Policy Act case law related to the license extension application procedure. Further, the petitioners argued the NRC acted arbitrarily, capriciously, through an abuse of its discretion and otherwise not in accordance of related laws.
However, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied their appeal for review, saying after examining the laws involved and evidence, the groups’ arguments were not “persuasive.”
The three anti-nuclear energy advocacy groups had requested intervenor status, filing a contention claiming that Seabrook Station should not be granted the extension because there could be enough wind energy available in the future that would alleviate the need for the nuclear energy Seabrook Station generates.
But the court found wind energy off the coast of Maine could not at this time be considered a reasonable alternative to replace Seabrook Station’s significant contribution to the energy it provides to New England’s electric grid, for the technology to reliably produce, and cost-effectively store, offshore wind power at this time is not feasible.
NextEra Energy Seabrook provides 8.2 percent, or 1245 megawatts, of electricity to the regional network. As a required part of the company’s license extension application filed with the NRC in May, 2010, alternative energy sources had to be analyzed and reported on by Seabrook Station. Those alternatives included what the company considered “viable” alternative energy sources: natural gas- and oil-fired generation, along with another nuclear power plant and power purchase.
Seabrook Station’s parent company, NextEra, is the leading generator of wind power in North America, and wind power was discussed in its application. However, Seabrook Station’s application concluded wind power was not a reasonable alternative to replace the baseload of nuclear energy it provides during the period involved.
The court sided with the NRC and dismissed the petitioners’ argument because “in most cases a “reasonable” energy alternative is one that is currently commercially viable, or will become so in the relatively near future.”
The concept of alternatives must be technically and economically practical and feasible either currently or in the near future, according to the court ruling, and evidence of that was not sufficient to impress the court to grant the petitioners a review.
In addition, the court held that the NRC’s decision to reverse the ALSB ruling was “reasoned decisionmaking and was not arbitrary or capricious.” The petitioners’ arguments didn’t raise a “genuine dispute as to the technical feasibility or commercial viability of offshore wind farms in the relevant time period,” and was therefore denied, according to the court ruling.