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Carolina Envtl. Study Group v. Atomic Energy Comm'n

ELR Citation: 7 ELR 20315
Nos. No. C-C-73-139, 431 F. Supp. 203/9 ERC 1964/(W.D.N.C., 03/31/1977)

The court declares that the Price-Anderson Act's limitation on liability from a nuclear incident violates plaintiffs' due process and equal protection rights by allowing property destruction without compensation and by irrationally placing the cost of nuclear accidents on only a few citizens. Plaintiffs are individuals living near two nuclear plants under construction in North Carolina by defendant Duke Power Company. The court, after extensively describing the operation of nuclear power plants, finds as a matter of fact that nuclear plant operation will have the immediate environmental effects of small radiation releases, large ambient water temperature increases, and a continual threat to plaintiffs of loss of property. Also, nuclear plant operation will have the potential effect of damages from a "core melt" or other major operating accidents. Finding that defendant's Reactor Safety Study underestimates the risks of a catastrophic accident from nuclear power plant operation, the court concludes as a matter of fact that the probability of a major nuclear accident producing damages exceeding the Price-Anderson Act's $560 million liability limit is real. As a matter of law, the court declares that because nuclear plant construction would not have commenced without the Price-Anderson liability limit, Price-Anderson's limit is a "but for" cause of such construction. Plaintiffs have standing to challenge the Act, in view of the causal relation between Price-Anderson and the plant construction, the present and certain injury that the plants' operation causes and will cause the plaintiffs, and the objectively reasonable fear of future catastrophic accidents and attendant environmental consequences. Furthermore, the controversy is ripe for adjudication since plaintiffs have an immediate right to redress the injury they will suffer from nuclear plant operation and the reasonable possibility that a nuclear accident will cause them injury for which Price-Anderson will deny them full compensation. The Act unconstitutionally denies plaintiffs' due process rights by irrationally limiting recovery without regard to losses from a nuclear accident, by encouraging irresponsibility in nuclear safety matters, and by limiting benefits without commensurately easiong burdens of recovery. Finally, by placing the cost of nuclear power generation and potential accidents therefrom on an arbitrarily chosen segment of society (those persons caught in a nuclear accident) without any legitimate public purpose, the Act denies plaintiffs equal protection.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Norman B. Smith
Smith, Patterson, Follin & Curtis
816 Southeastern Bldg., Greensboro NC 27401
(919) 275-8603

George S. Daly, Jr.
Casey & Daly
700 Law Bldg., Charlotte NC 28202
(704) 376-7461

William B. Schultz, Alan B. Morrison
Suite 700, 2000 P St., NW, Washington DC 20036
(202) 785-3704

Counsel for Defendants
Douglas M. Martin, Ass't U.S. Attorney
P.O. Box 569, Charlotte NC 28231
(704) 372-0711

Peter L. Strauss, General Counsel; Stephen F. Eilperin, Ass't General Counsel
Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington DC 20555
(202) 492-7000

Joseph B. Knotts, Jr., J. Michael McGarry, III
Conner & Knotts
Suite 1050, 1747 Pennsylvania Av., NW,
Washington DC 20006
(202) 833-3500

Clarence W. Walker
Kennedy, Covington, Lobdell & Hickman
330 NCNB Plaza, Charlotte NC 28280
(704) 377-6000

William L. Porter
Duke Power Co.
P.O. Box 2178, Charlotte NC 28233
(704) 373-4011