Federal Atomic Safety Board to Hold Hearings on Controversial Irradiation Proposal in Hawai'i

Environmental and disaster review of airport project necessary


David Henkin, Earthjustice, (808) 599-2436
David Paulson, Concerned Citizens of Honolulu, (808) 372-1276

Yesterday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC’s) Atomic Safety and Licensing Board granted Earthjustice’s petition, filed on October 3, 2005, for a hearing on a proposal to locate a nuclear irradiator at Honolulu International Airport. The petition was filed on behalf on behalf of the community group Concerned Citizens of Honolulu.

The petitioners are concerned about the potential for accidents and natural disasters to cause radioactive releases from the facility. The board will hold a hearing to determine whether the NRC staff violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it refused to prepare an environmental impact statement or environmental assessment for the project. The board has not yet announced the hearing date.

“It is great the board is going to hold the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s staff accountable for its refusal to conduct any environmental review for this project,” said Concerned Citizens member Bernie Young. “I may not be a nuclear physicist, but it’s only common sense to take a hard look at threats to the community’s safety and health before you let someone put a facility packed with radioactive material in the middle of urban Honolulu, near the ocean and military bases.”

Concerned Citizens’ petition responded to an application 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 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 questioned the NRC staff’s failure to explain its refusal to perform any environmental review. At the hearing, Concerned Citizens will have the opportunity to present evidence that these risks triggered the NRC’s obligation to prepare a comprehensive environmental review of the proposal.

“The board’s decision ensures that the serious threats the irradiator would pose to public health and safety and the environment will not be swept under the rug,” said Earthjustice attorney David Henkin. “The public deserves a thorough review of these threats, as well as a candid evaluation of alternate sites or technologies that could achieve the project’s goals with less risk. This is what the law requires and what we will continue to fight to secure.”

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.

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Earthjustice is a non-profit, public-interest, environmental law firm. The Hawai’i regional office opened in Honolulu in 1988 as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, and has represented dozens of environmental, native Hawaiian, and community organizations. Earthjustice is the only non-profit environmental law firm in Hawai’i and the Mid-Pacific, and does not charge clients for its services.

Concerned Citizens of Honolulu is a grassroots community group created to ensure the people who live and work in Honolulu will be adequately protected from potential public health and safety and environmental impacts associated with Pa’ina Hawaii’s proposed irradiator and to ensure that a thorough environmental review of the proposal – including consideration of alternate technologies and alternate locations that could achieve the project’s goals with less risk to the public and environment – is performed before any project approvals are issued.

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