(CN) - A federal appeals court in Philadelphia upheld the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's decision to renew the operation license for the nation's oldest nuclear power plant.
A coalition of environmental groups and citizens had contested the 2009 extension of the Exelon Generation Company's license to operate the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Facility for another 20 years, claiming the NRC had improperly denied their efforts to raise significant safety issues during the licensing process.
But the 3rd Circuit found the NRC did not abuse its discretion in rejecting the objections.
"We are confident that the NRC's review of Exelon's application was well-reasoned, and we will not second-guess technical decisions within the realm of its unique expertise," the court said.
The future of the plant, originally licensed in April 1969, has been a subject of public debate since the late 1980s, when extensive corrosion was discovered in the steel containment shell that encloses the reactor vessel.
In its application for license renewable Exelon made numerous commitments to adequately control the corrosion and perform full safety inspections of the facility every four years. However, the company did not include extensive ultrasonic testing in their plan, despite the act it was through ultrasonic testing that the problem was discovered in the first place.
In fact, the plan put forward by Exelon included only taking such measures in the sand bed region surrounding the reactor, and excluded the drywall itself from the tests.
The plaintiff coalition challenged the testing regime as proposed as insufficient to detect corrosion on the interior of the drywall. A review board ultimately dismissed the coalition's contentions saying they were not made it a timely fashion and were not based on previously unavailable information.
Even if the contentions were filed in a timely fashion, the review board said, the coalitions failed to demonstrate that a genuine dispute existed on a material issue of law or fact.
In affirming the NRC's decision to extend the plaint license, the 3rd Circuit said the agency relied on its staff's recommendation that the proposed inspection regime did not present a significant safety issue, and that there were methods other than ultrasound to detect future corrosion.
"Although the NRC's decision was not unanimous, the majority based their decision on facts in the record and reasonably applied their technical expertise," the court said. "We determine that the NRC properly exercised its discretion in ruling that Exelon demonstrated 'reasonable assurance' that it could operate Oyster Creek, and that the inspection report did not raise a significant safety issue justifying reopening of the record."
A footnote in the case reveals that the three-judge panel sought comment from the NRC, Exelon and the plaintiffs regarding the potential impact of the damage to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on the propriety of granting a license renewal for Oyster Creek,
"After considering the submissions from the parties... it appears that the events in Japan do not provide a basis to grant the petition for review in this case," the court said.
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