The effects of a terrorist attack on the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant's radioactive waste storage must be considered by federal regulators, the Ninth Circuit Court ruled. While the June 2 court decision sided with the plaintiffs on the main issue - that the National Environmental Policy Act requires the federal government to consider the implications of a radioactive release from terrorist activities - it denied several of plaintiffs' lesser arguments. "This is a victory for the communities that live in the shadow of Diablo Canyon, and for the health of California's residents and environment," stated Attorney General Bill Lockyer. "The Bush administration ignored its own experts, who have warned that further terrorist attacks are inevitable and nuclear facilities are likely targets." David McIntyre, Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesperson, said the agency was reviewing the ruling. "It is still too early to say what the NRC may or may not do in response," he stated. An expansion of the nuclear facility's on-site waste storage will be needed to allow ongoing operations of the 2,200 MW nuke, as its current spent-fuel pool is nearly full. Diablo is unlikely to shut down while federal regulators consider allowing more on-site radioactive waste storage, according to owner Pacific Gas & Electric. "With the current spent-fuel pool licensing, we can store additional used fuel in the spent-fuel pools and operate normally to 2010, by which time we might expect this issue to be resolved," stated PG&E spokesperson Jeff Lewis. He added that construction on the additional aboveground storage casks continues and the ruling does not affect the construction schedule. However, federal regulators still need to license the facility in order for the utility to use it. The new storage casks are scheduled to be completed in late 2007. Lewis would not speculate on how long NRC proceedings on terrorism might take, or how much they would cost ratepayers. Plaintiff Mothers for Peace expressed surprise that PG&E would continue building the storage facility before the NRC approves it. "There is a possibility of the NRC ordering some design changes in order to make the casks less vulnerable to terrorist attack," Jane Swanson, Mothers spokesperson, stated. "If changes are ordered, that would put PG&E in the position of having to tear out and redo parts of their construction - all at the expense of ratepayers." During arguments last fall, the Ninth Circuit judges made it clear that the NRC was on shaky ground (Circuit, Oct. 22, 2005). "The NRC simply does not explain its unwillingness to hear and consider the information that Petitioners seek to contribute to the process, which would fulfill both the information-gathering and the public participation functions of NEPA," the court stated last week. The judges' panel added that the federal government's contention that it couldn't hear the terrorism arguments because of national security concerns didn't fly. "There is no 'national defense' exception to NEPA," the court quoted itself from a 1977 case. "We find it difficult to reconcile the Commission's conclusion that, as a matter of law, the possibility of a terrorist attack on a nuclear facility is 'remote and speculative,' with its stated efforts to undertake a 'top to bottom' security review against this same threat. It appears as though the NRC is attempting, as a matter of policy, to insist on its preparedness and the seriousness with which it is responding to the post-September 11th terrorist threat, while concluding, as a matter of law, that all terrorist threats are 'remote and highly speculative' for NEPA purposes," stated the opinion. Mothers for Peace and co-plaintiff the Sierra Club want federal regulators to publicly air potential problems with Diablo Canyon's proposed storage facilities for high-level spent fuel. PG&E is installing concrete and steel aboveground casks to house the radioactive materials at the site near San Luis Obispo. The spent fuel was supposed to be ensconced at a federal repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. However, that facility has yet to be built, and it appears that it will never be the waste dump as envisioned (Circuit, May 19, 2006). Thus, as spent fuel crowds the current fuel pool at Diablo, PG&E needs to find another site to put the radioactive waste to allow the nuclear power plant to continue operating. The court remanded the case for further proceedings.