In an apparent legal victory for developers of new nuclear power plants in the U.S., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit denied complaints from environmental groups that federal approval of Southern Co.’s two new reactors under construction in Georgia did not address lessons learned from the Fukushima accident.

In their suit, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, et al. v. NRC, nine environmental groups, including the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, claim the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) abused its discretion in refusing to reopen the hearing record in the licensing proceeding for Vogtle Units 3 and 4 after the regulator’s task force post-Fukushima recommendations were issued and approved by the NRC.

They also claim that the NRC denied them a right to participate in a mandatory hearing at which NRC technical staff confirmed Fukushima had not presented new and significant information that would require a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Vogtle. And finally, the petitioners allege the NRC abused its discretion when it approved Westinghouse’s AP1000 reactor design without first supplementing the AP1000 environmental assessment that contained severe accident mitigation design alternatives that were applicable to Vogtle.

On Tuesday, however, the court said that it found “no merit” in any of these contentions, and it denied the petitions for review.

The NRC first issued a design certification rule approving Westinghouse’s AP1000 design in 2006. At that time, it also analyzed but rejected 16 “Severe Accident Mitigation Design Alternatives” on cost-benefit grounds. On Dec. 30, 2011, though it considered more than 200 comments, it declined to suspend or delay the design certification rulemaking proceeding, saying the design was already compliant with many of the task force recommendations.

Southern Co., meanwhile, applied for an early site permit for its Vogtle Units 3 and 4 in August 2006. It applied for combined construction and operating licenses (COLs) for the two units later in 2009.

Shortly after the Fukushima Daiichi accident in March 2011, the NRC’s task force was appointed to reevaluate nuclear safety regulations in the U.S. In April 2011, the environmental groups petitioned the NRC, asking it to suspend all pending licensing decisions, including the decisions on whether to issue COLs for Vogtle 3 and 4, but the NRC denied these requests. The commission concluded that “nothing learned to date requires immediate cessation of our review of license applications or proposed reactor designs.”

Sources: POWERnews, CADC

—Sonal Patel, Senior Writer (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)

NOTE: This story was originally published on May 15