SALEM TWP. — The Susquehanna Nuclear Power Plant got a green light to expand the spent fuel storage installation at the steam electric station Tuesday night after a majority of township Zoning Hearing Board members agreed they do not have jurisdiction over the matter.
Susquehanna Nuclear LLC, an affiliate of Talen Energy, had applied earlier this year for a zoning permit to construct a 22,000-square-foot “Independent Fuel Storage Installation” at the plant, which is located a few miles northeast of Berwick near the Susquehanna River.
Township Zoning Officer Karen Karchner denied the permit because the proposed facility is not permitted in the I-3 Special Industrial District, according to the hearing agenda.
Immediately after a roll call of the board was taken for attendance, attorney Donald Karpowich, representing Talen Energy, made a preliminary motion to have the board grant the appeal because it lacked jurisdiction in the matter.
Karpowich said he submitted case law with Talen’s appeal showing that federal law trumps state and local laws under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
“If the federal government decides to occupy a field, they decide to do it to the exclusion of everyone else, whether it be state, county or local municipalities. In this particular case, they have done that through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who issued a license to Talen Energy to not only operate the facility, but also to store the waste by-product, which is the spent fuel storage,” Karpowich said.
“Because it’s regulated and because there’s nowhere else in the country to store it, the government has dictated the manner in which it is to be stored and requires them to store it on site,” he said.
Karpowich said he cited “a plethora of cases” from across the country in which courts ruled “that any governmental agency other than the federal government that prohibits the transportation or storage of spent fuel is pre-empted from doing so.”
Zoning Board Solicitor Hugh Sumner said he reviewed the case law submitted by Karpowich and researched the matter on his own as well and concurred with Karpowich’s legal interpretation. But, he said, it was up to the board to decide whether or not to hear the case.
Board Chairman Brian Yohe and members Rich Weaver and Lee Smith voted to affirm that the board did not have jurisdiction in the matter; Sam Groome cast the lone negative vote; John Fogg was absent. Groome declined comment after the meeting on the reasoning behind his vote on the advice of counsel.
Karpowich said the board’s vote meant that the appeal was successful and Talen could proceed with construction.
Todd Martin, manager - Media Relations for Talen Energy, said 91 of the 115 casks — or spent fuel containment systems — on site are in use, and an expanded storage facility must be in place by the end of 2018.
Yucca Mountain in Nevada was designated as a national repository for nuclear waste by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act amendments of 1987, but funding for the controversial project was ended in 2011.
Martin said nuclear plants across the country are facing the same storage issue.
There are about 77,000 tons of spent fuel piling up at nuclear plants across the country, according to the Associated Press.
Many members of the public who signed up to testify at the hearing were upset they didn’t have the opportunity to voice their concerns and have their questions answered.
Township resident Dennis Stackhouse, 67, said his property is “a stone’s throw away” from the plant and wanted to know if Susquehanna would be able to accept nuclear waste from other facilities.
Another man who declined to give his name questioned the fairness of the federal government spending tax dollars to fund the on-site containment.