Power Reactor Development Company v. International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, AFL-CIO

PETITIONER: Power Reactor Development Company
RESPONDENT: International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, AFL-CIO
LOCATION: Mapp's Residence

DOCKET NO.: 315
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 367 US 396 (1961)
ARGUED: Apr 26, 1961 / Apr 27, 1961
DECIDED: Jun 12, 1961

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Power Reactor Development Company v. International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, AFL-CIO

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 26, 1961 in Power Reactor Development Company v. International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, AFL-CIO

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 27, 1961 in Power Reactor Development Company v. International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, AFL-CIO

Earl Warren:

Number 315, Power Reactor Development Company, Petitioner, versus International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, et al. and Numbers 454 United States, et al., Petitioners, versus International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers.

Benjamin C. Sigal:

Mr. Chief Justice.

Earl Warren:

Mr. Sigal, you may continue.

Benjamin C. Sigal:

May it please the Court.

The greatest potential hazard in the operation of a power reactor lies in the possibility that the accumulation of fission products, radioactive fission products imprisoned in the fuel in the course of the operation of the reactor might somehow, including a breach of the containment, that is the shell that covers the reactor, be released into the atmosphere, be distributed by the wind and contaminate both the land and the -- the entire inhabited area.

These fission products are more toxic than any industrially known materials by a factor of a million to 8 billion.

Now, a report prepared for the Commission and presented in this case, concludes that the possible damage from a major accident in a large nuclear power plant of a -- one of the size of the plant involved in this case, which containment may go up to $7 billion, kill 3400 people, injure 43,000 people and lay waste to scores of thousands of square miles of land.

Now, these are not the maximum possibility.

The same report which provided these estimates stated also that in special weather conditions which occur about 5% of the time that if such an accident occurs during such conditions, the damages would be greater, but there is now, no known way of estimating such damages.

Earl Warren:

Mr. Sigal before you get farther into that subject, I -- I don't quite -- I don't believe I quite got your point yesterday, just at the conclusion of the session when you were discussing whether or not, the Government could change the requirements after the -- the permit to construct and before the permit to operate the reactor.

What just -- just what is your position on that?

What -- what changes can they make if any?

Benjamin C. Sigal:

Well, is -- is your question as to whether the Government can make changes?

Earl Warren:

Well --

Benjamin C. Sigal:

I don't argue -- it wasn't the word that that question was raised?

Earl Warren:

Well, as I -- as I understood you, I may have been wrong, but as I understood you that after the Government had once issued this permit to construct the plant that it is powerless to change the -- the -- requirements for it.

Benjamin C. Sigal:

Oh, no.

No, I -- if I --

Earl Warren:

Alright, is there any limitation on what they can do to make it more safe?

Benjamin C. Sigal:

No, I -- something I said gave you an impression, certainly had no such intention.

It must be understood that these reactors are built pursuant to applications by private parties who want to build certain types of reactors.

Earl Warren:

Yes.

Benjamin C. Sigal:

And they asked for permission to -- for a construction permit and they themselves, set forth the specifications of the reactor.

Earl Warren:

Yes.

Benjamin C. Sigal:

And then the -- the Commission must determine whether or not, it is satisfied that those specifications when will be -- provide a safe reactor before they will -- in our view, before they can issue a permit.

Now, the Government itself, at least not to my knowledge, will not of its own initiative request a change in the specifications.

That would come about only if it appeared that the specifications which the applicant prescribed did not provide a safe reactor.

The -- the -- very -- the consultants, the Commission and so forth, may suggest that in order to solve a given safety question, certain things should be done.

It's not a question of requiring the applicant to do certain things, but of course, of making suggestions of how to solve a given safety problem.

Now, if the problem isn't solved, there will be no -- there will be no license presumably, if it's a -- if it's a major factor.