Federal Court Blocks Restart of TMI Reactor
A federal appeals court Friday blocked the operator of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant from restarting TMI’s undamaged reactor, idle since its twin was wrecked in a near-meltdown in 1979.
The order by a three-member panel of the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia was filed only hours after TMI workers began heating Unit 1 in preparation for its scheduled restart Tuesday.
GPU Nuclear Corp., TMI’s operator, planned to continue the non-nuclear heat-up, which also tests the unit’s major systems, excluding the reactor core and the electricity-producing generator.
Lawyers for Gov. Dick Thornburgh and two anti-nuclear groups--TMI Alert Inc. and the Union of Concerned Scientists--sought the order from the appeals court.
The three parties chiefly argued that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should have held additional hearings on the competence and integrity of TMI’s management before voting last week to permit the restart.
Sufficient showing was made by the parties to warrant a stay of the NRC decision, pending an “expedited review” of their arguments, the court said in its one-page order.
The court, which did not set a time limit on the stay, scheduled a June 27 hearing for oral arguments by lawyers for the state, the anti-nuclear groups, GPU Nuclear and the NRC.
To win the stay, the restart challengers had to show they were likely to succeed in their case, that they would be irreparably harmed by restart, that a delay would not injure NRC or GPU and was in the public interest.
“The court’s action is encouraging, to say the least, to those of us who believe that all health and safety issues should be resolved prior to any Unit 1 restart,” Thornburgh said in a prepared statement.
“We hope this will be the first step in a process that results in hearings by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on the safety-related issues of competence and integrity we have raised.”
Brian Hunt, a spokesman for TMI Alert, added: “There’s a huge sigh of relief in this area. When GPU started heat-up, the level of anxiety in this community went through the ceiling.
“I think we’re going to enjoy the weekend, enjoy the reprieve,” he added.
Gordon Tomb, a spokesman for GPU Nuclear, said the company regretted the court’s action but said it was “pleased the court will consider bringing this issue to a close expeditiously.”
About the heat-up, he said: “We have some testing to complete at hot-rated conditions. This testing is likely to take a few days.”
During the heat-up, the pressure and temperature in the reactor’s water-cooling system will be increased to near-operating levels.
Unit 1 was down for refueling in March, 1979, when the nation’s worst commercial nuclear power accident occurred at its twin. The NRC later issued orders keeping it closed.
In voting last week to permit restart, the commission said there was a reasonable assurance that Unit 1 could be operated safely.