Federal court panel rejects HALEU appeal, but another opening remains

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On November 15, 2022, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected an appeal brought by Beyond Nuclear and the Ohio Nuclear-Free Network challenging the production of High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Portsmouth, Ohio site. HALEU would, supposedly, fuel “advanced” reactor designs (that have not yet even been approved), particularly a new generation of so-called “Small Modular Nuclear Reactors.”

See the court’s ruling here:

11 15 22 DC Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion on HALEU

The environmental coalition has argued that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it flippantly issued an Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact. In addition to the nuclear weapons proliferation risks of enriching Uranium-235 to bomb-grade 20%+ concentration levels, Petitioners have also pointed to the environmental, safety and health impacts NRC has neglected to adequately consider at the already heavily radioactively-contaminated Portsmouth site.

Oral arguments were held on October 13, 2022 in Washington, D.C. Terry Lodge of Toledo, Ohio and Wally Taylor of Cedar Rapids, Iowa serve as legal counsel for the environmental coalition. Listen to an audio recording of the oral arguments, here.

In its ruling, the appeals panel ruled that the Petitioners lacked jurisdiction, for not having pursued a license proceeding intervention at the NRC.

However, DOE has had to extend its contract for yet incomplete experimental HALEU production at Portsmouth. For this reason, another legal intervention in licensing proceedings at the NRC is now possible. Beyond Nuclear, the Ohio Nuclear-Free Network, and their legal counsel are considering their legal options.

In related news reported on the very same day as the court ruling above, DOE has already awarded $150 million in HALEU subsidies. $700 million of new reactor fuel subsidies were included as part of the Inflation Reduction Act enacted in August 2022.

Also see a three-page NRC Frequently Asked Questions about HALEU.

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