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Wednesday, January 17, 2007  
Order for terror study at Diablo stands

By: Keay Davidson, Chronicle Science Writer
Published In: San Francisco Chronicle

Subtitle: Supreme Court refuses to hear case brought by PG&E, Nuclear Regulatory Commission

SAN LUIS OBISPO--The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and PG&E were issued a major legal setback Tuesday when the Supreme Court declined to consider a lower court decision requiring that a nuclear power plant near San Luis Obispo be analyzed for terrorist risk.

The high court's refusal to take up the case means the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which monitors the nation's operational commercial nuclear power reactors, must now formally study the environmental impacts of potential attacks on the Diablo Canyon plant, said an attorney for San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, an anti-nuclear group that brought the lawsuit.

But officials with the regulatory commission and PG&E, which operates the plant, said they were looking at what legal options might remain open to them.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said in June that the terrorist assessments must be conducted. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and PG&E appealed, hoping to get the ruling overturned out of concern that any such study could force them to take costly security measures at the plant.

Dave McIntyre, NRC spokesman, told The Chronicle that the agency has acted "aggressively since Sept. 11, 2001, to enhance security at nuclear facilities."

"It would be dishonest and inappropriate for me to speculate on what the commission will decide as the best way forward," he said.

PG&E spokesman Jeff Lewis said utility officials were "disappointed that the court will not consider this important issue."

Diane Curran, an attorney for San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, said the court's refusal to take up their case opens the way for legal action against nuclear reactors across the nation.

"It's going to be difficult for NRC to say this only applies in the Ninth Circuit," she said. "The court basically said the emperor has no clothes."

Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Watchdog Project at the Nuclear Information and Resource Service in Washington, agreed. Gunter, who has no part in the Mothers for Peace lawsuit, said "the court's decision opens a legal can of worms for the industry and the NRC" across the nation, especially at reactor sites that are exceptionally vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

Marylia Kelley, a veteran Bay Area activist with Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment in Livermore, said Tuesday's decision by the court could enhance other activist fights around the nation, including her group's fight to stop Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's development of an upgraded bio-warfare defense lab in Livermore.

"Community groups all across the nation will be citing this case and asking for similar (environmental) reviews before dangerous, new nuclear, chemical and/or biological facilities are sited and operate," Kelley said.

E-mail Keay Davidson at

?2007 San Francisco Chronicle

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