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Court Rejects NJ Nuke Plant Terrorist Concerns

(CN) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not required to examine the environmental impact of a hypothetical terrorist attack on nuclear power plants that apply for renewed licenses, the 3rd Circuit ruled. Judge Roth found that the risk of sabotage is too small to warrant environmental review, and that the effects of any terrorist attack would be no worse than those of a severe accident.

In July 2005, AmerGen Energy Corp. sought to renew the license for its Oyster Creek power plant in Ocean County, N.J.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection challenged the application, claiming the regulatory commission failed to study the effects of an aircraft attack on Oyster Creek.

The commission denied the claim, saying terrorism concerns are security issues that aren't addressed during license renewal, because they do not relate to the aging of the plant.

Further, the attacks are "too far removed from the natural or expected consequences of agency action," the commission concluded. It added that it has already taken steps to increase security at nuclear power plants and cited a 1996 report finding the risk of sabotage small.

"Although the threat of sabotage events cannot be accurately quantified, the commission believes that acts of sabotage are not reasonably expected," the commission reported. "Nonetheless, if such events were to occur, the commission would expect that resultant core damage and radiological releases would be no worse than those expected from internally initiated events."

The Philadelphia-based federal appeals court sided with the commission, citing "two insurmountable flaws" in the plaintiff's appeal.

"First, NJDEP has not shown that there is a 'reasonably close causal relationship' between the Oyster Creek relicensing proceeding and the environmental effects of a hypothetical aircraft attack," Roth wrote. "Second, the NRC has already considered the environmental effects of a hypothetical terrorist attack on a nuclear plant and found that these effects would be no worse than those caused by a severe accident."

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