The Commission agreed with Concerned Citizens of Honolulu, represented by Earthjustice, that the NRC staff violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it failed to investigate non-nuclear technologies that could accomplish the goal of treating fruits and vegetables for export, such as the electron-beam irradiator used for the past ten years on Hawai‘i Island.
The Commission also upheld an August 2009 decision by the agency’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board that faulted the NRC staff for failing to consider alternate sites that aren’t subject to the same threats of tsunami, storm surge, earthquakes and aircraft crashes as the location Pa‘ina Hawaii proposes.
"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 the NRC staff illegally ignored risks to public health and safety from accidents involving shipments of radioactive cobalt-60 to operate the proposed irradiator.
Since "construction and operation of the irradiator carries with it transportation of the necessary cobalt-60 sources," the Commission concluded that the NRC staff must consider "any reasonably foreseeable impacts of accidents resulting from transportation of the sealed sources to and from the irradiator."
The case began in October 2005 when Earthjustice, on behalf of Concerned Citizens of Honolulu, challenged the NRC’s plan to approve the irradiator without any environmental review. Earthjustice argued that the proposed irradiator site, which is located next to active runways and in a tsunami evacuation zone, was vulnerable to numerous threats that could jeopardize human and environmental health.
In a settlement of that initial challenge, the NRC staff agreed to prepare an environmental assessment and put it out for public review. When the document was released, Earthjustice challenged it as legally inadequate.
Today, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission agreed, directing the NRC staff to expand its analysis to address alternate sites and technologies. It also ordered the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board to hold a hearing on whether the revised analysis must also include transportation accidents involving shipments of the radioactive material needed to operate the proposed irradiator.
Information from the 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 because it’s located in the Special Management Area.