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A reactor licensing is a major Federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment which requires a "detailed" environmental impact statement under § 102(2) (C) of the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C.S. § 4332(2)(C). That section requires an impact statement to consider, inter alia, any adverse environmental effects which cannot be avoided should the proposal be implemented, and any irreversible and irretrievable commitments of resources which would be involved in the proposed action should it be implemented.
Two cases concerned the manner to which information concerning the environmental effects of radioactive wastes must be considered on the public record in decisions to license nuclear reactors. In the first case, petitioners sought consideration of the environmental effects of that portion of the "nuclear fuel cycle" attributable to operation of that reactor. The second involved a rulemaking proceeding to reconsider whether environmental effects of all stages of the uranium fuel cycle should be included in the cost-benefit analysis for licensing individual reactors. The commission promulgated the rule requiring a series of specified numerical values be factored into the cost-benefit analysis for an individual reactor seeking a license to operate. Petitioners sought review of the order.
Was there a sufficient basis for the commission’s order?
The Court first noted that the decisions to license nuclear reactors which generate large amounts of toxic wastes requiring special isolation from the environment for several centuries were a paradigm of irreversible and irretrievable commitments of resources which must receive "detailed" analysis under § 102(2)(C)(v) of the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C.S § 4332(2)(C)(v). In the case at bar, the Court held that the commission's action in cutting off consideration of waste disposal and reprocessing issues in licensing proceedings based on the cursory development of the facts which occurred in the proceeding was capricious and arbitrary. Accordingly, the portions of the rule pertaining to these matters were set aside and remanded.