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Nuclear Regulatory Commission Halts Proposed Fruit and Vegetable Irradiator

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has issued a ruling that will ensure O‘ahu residents gain more information about a controversial nuclear irradiation facility proposed for Honolulu International Airport by Pa‘ina Hawaii, LLC.

The Commission agreed with Concerned Citizens of Honolulu, represented by Earthjustice, that NRC staff violated the National Environmental Policy Act when they failed to investigate a non-nuclear technology – electron-beam irradiation – that could accomplish the goal of treating fruits and vegetables for export without any of the risks associated with using radioactive material. Such a non-nuclear food irradiator has been used successfully for the past 10 years on Hawai‘i Island.
The Commission also upheld an August 2009 decision by the agency’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board that faulted NRC staff for not considering sites less subject to the threats of tsunami, storm surge, earthquakes and aircraft crashes as the location Pa‘ina Hawaii proposes. The NRC staff must expand its analysis to address both alternate sites and the electron-beam technology.

"It’s outrageous that the staff refused to look at a technology that has successfully accomplished the same purpose for a decade, without radiation," said Earthjustice attorney David Henkin. "Because of our efforts, a lot more information will be disseminated to the public, including state and city officials who will be reviewing the proposal."

Finally, the Commission ordered the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board to rule on Concerned Citizens’ claim that NRC staff illegally ignored risks to public health and safety from accidents involving shipments of radioactive cobalt-60 to operate the proposed irradiator. The Commission stressed that the use of cobalt-60 “carries with it the potential for transportation impacts associated with source shipments to and from the irradiator site.”
Information from NRC’s environmental review will help the State of Hawai‘i decide whether to grant Pa‘ina Hawaii’s request to lease airport land for its irradiator. The city and county of Honolulu also must approve the project.