Massachusetts Loses Challenge to Entergy License Renewal

Massachusetts lost a bid for review of a Nuclear Regulatory Commission decision renewing the license of Entergy Corp.’s Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston yesterday denied the state’s petition to review last year’s NRC order. Massachusetts had cited an “inadequate” environmental impact study in opposing the renewal.

“The Commonwealth’s substantive challenges to the NRC’s decisions are not based in any alleged failure on the part of the NRC to ensure basic health and safety under the Atomic Energy Act,” the appeals judges said in their opinion.

Massachusetts had claimed the NRC’s environmental impact statement was inadequate in light of the damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant from an earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan in 2011. The state said the study failed to take into account possible accidents involving pools of spent fuel.

The state is reviewing the court ruling and “considering our options,” Martha Coakley, the attorney general of Massachusetts, said in an e-mailed statement.

“Nuclear energy, when done right, can be a valuable part of our energy future,” Coakley said. “Our goal throughout this process has been to minimize the public safety and environmental risks for the communities surrounding the Pilgrim plant.”

Spent Fuel

The ruling states that although the Japanese tsunami damaged three of the reactor’s six units, “virtually no damage occurred to any of the spent fuel pools on site and there were no spent fuel pool fires.”

The NRC established a task force after the tsunami and issued a report in July 2011 containing 12 recommendations. The report stated that there was “no apparent significant damage” to the spent fuel at Fukushima.

In July 2011 Massachusetts made a motion to reopen the Pilgrim licensing proceedings because of the Fukushima disaster. The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board denied the state’s bid in November 2011, stating in part that “spent fuel concerns were not unique to Pilgrim.”

In May 2012 the NRC approved the license renewal for Pilgrim. The agency assured the state that if new information concerning the safety of the plant arose, it would be taken into account, according to the court ruling. A review of the Fukushima incident is continuing.

‘Hard Look’

“We are pleased the court found that the agency had appropriately addressed the various concerns raised by the Commonwealth during the NRC proceeding on Pilgrim license renewal,” Diane Screnci, a spokeswoman for the agency, said in an e-mail.

Entergy, based in New Orleans, fell 24 cents to $61.34 at 12:12 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares had dropped 3.4 percent this year before today.

“We are pleased with the U.S. Court of Appeals decision,” Michael Burns, a spokesman for Entergy, said in an e-mail. “As stated in the court ruling, the record shows that the NRC gave a hard look to the information Massachusetts presented to it, and it engaged in reasoned decision-making in explaining why it refused to reopen the record and why it denied the contention.”

The cases are Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 12-1404 and 12-1772, U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (Boston).

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