In its August 27 ruling, the board agreed with Concerned Citizens of Honolulu, represented by Earthjustice, that the NRC staff violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it failed to evaluate risks to public health and safety from accidents involving shipments of radioactive cobalt-60 to operate the proposed irradiator.
"Trucks carrying radioactive material to Pa'ina's proposed irradiator could crash in front of a school, a local business, a house," said Concerned Citizens of Honolulu spokesperson David Paulson. "We're pleased the board recognized the people of Honolulu deserve to know what kinds of threats our families would face if such an accident happened, before a final decision about the irradiator is made."
The board also found the NRC staff illegally 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 nine years on Hawai'i Island. The board further 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 years, 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."
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.
The board agreed, and last week directed NRC staff to expand its analysis to address transportation accidents, as well as alternate sites and technologies. The board devoted more than a quarter of its 110-page order to the issue of alternative technology, noting that NRC staff had failed to even consult the operator of the electron beam irradiator on the Hawai'i Island.
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.