Today, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board ordered environmental review pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of Pa`ina Hawai`i, LLC’s proposal to locate a nuclear irradiator at Honolulu International Airport. The order accepts an agreement reached last month between community group Concerned Citizens of Honolulu (represented by Earthjustice) and the NRC staff to prepare an environmental assessment to evaluate threats to the facility from airplane crashes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, and other accidents. The board had previously granted Concerned Citizens’ October 3, 2005, petition for a hearing on the irradiator to evaluate safety and environmental concerns.
“We applaud the board’s decision, which recognizes the compelling public interest in thorough environmental review of this controversial proposal,” said Concerned Citizen member David Paulson. “We are particularly pleased the people who would be threatened if this irradiator were built are going to have the chance to have their voices heard and to ensure the NRC takes a careful look at the many threats to public health and safety and the environment.”
Under the agreement, the NRC staff will hold at least one public meeting in Honolulu at which the public will have the opportunity to offer comment on a draft environmental review, which is expected to be completed in December 2006. The NRC will also accept written comments.
The environmental review will analyze a proposal by Pa’ina Hawaii, LLC, to build and operate an irradiator next to the Reef Runway to treat fruit and vegetables for fruit flies. The facility would contain up to one million curies of cobalt-60. Noting in a January 2005 order the potential “consequences of siting an irradiator on the ocean’s edge at the Honolulu Airport, subject to the risks of aircraft crashes, tsunamis, and hurricanes,” the board had questioned the NRC staff’s prior failure to perform any environmental review under NEPA.
“The law requires the NRC to prepare a full-blown environmental impact statement if the proposed irradiator has any potential to cause significant harm to public health or safety or the environment,” explained Earthjustice attorney David Henkin. “We’re confident that, once the agency looks at the facts, it will realize the folly of placing up to a million curies of radioactive material at a site that is vulnerable to so many potential disasters, both natural and human-caused.”
NEPA requires each federal agency, including the NRC, that is considering approval of a project that might have a significant impact on the human environment to prepare either an environmental assessment or a more comprehensive environmental impact statement. The purpose of this review is to put on the table, for the deciding agency’s and the public’s view, a sufficiently detailed statement of environmental impacts and alternatives so as to permit informed decision-making. NEPA provides opportunities for the public to participate in the review process, to ensure the NRC does not overlook issues of concern to the community.