WASHINGTON — A Supreme Court justice on Tuesday temporarily blocked today's scheduled restart of a nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, the site of the nation's worst commercial nuclear plant accident in 1979.
Justice William J. Brennan Jr. postponed the restart until he fully studies an emergency request from a citizens' group, Three Mile Island Alert, that said it is too risky for operations at the plant to resume.
Brennan gave the company that runs the plant until midday Friday to respond to the group's claims.
Residents See Risk
The citizens' organization told Brennan the restart of the plant's Unit 1 reactor now will mean "residents who live in the TMI vicinity will suffer irreparable psychological damage and risk irreparable physical harm."
The Unit 1 reactor was not affected by the accident in March, 1979, that crippled the adjacent Unit 2. The nuclear core of Unit 2 lost its cooling shield of water, fuel began to melt and radiation was released outside the plant.
The group said additional safety hearings are needed before operations can continue. It said it plans to ask the full Supreme Court to order further hearings and urged Brennan to preserve the status quo.
Brennan said that the stay would remain in effect at least until the full court decides whether to hear TMI Alert's appeal. His order, however, gave no indication as to when that ruling might come.
TMI Alert said that the plant operator, GPU Nuclear Corp., is "an untrustworthy company" that should not be allowed to oversee "an inherently dangerous technology and substandard facility."
The plant managers said that the facility has been heated with non-nuclear systems and was scheduled to begin a slow climb to full power today.
On Sept. 19, the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia voted 10 to 2 against hearing an appeal for further safety hearings requested by TMI Alert, Pennsylvania officials and others.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruled last May 29 that the plant could resume operations.