Jurisdiction–Atomic Energy–Federal Pre-emption and State Regulation of Radioactive Air Pollution: Who Is the Master of the Atomic Genie?

Pending litigation between the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Northern States Power Company presents a potential federal-state conflict over the right of a state to impose upon operators of nuclear power plants more exacting pollution control standards than those required by regulations of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). The AEC issued Northern States Power Company a permit to construct a nuclear power generating plant in Monticello, Minnesota. The regulations under which that permit was issued place a ceiling on the amount of radioactive effluents which can be discharged into the air during the course of the plant’s operations. But under the regulations of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, before the power company could begin operation of the plant, it was required to obtain a permit from that agency. The permit that it obtained from the state agency restricted the discharge of radioactive effluents from the plant to approximately two per cent of the levels allowed under the AEC standards. Northern States Power Company complained that the state standards made economical operation of the plant impossible. The company has filed suit in federal district court, asserting that the State of Minnesota is precluded from regulating radioactive pollution from atomic power plants because Congress has given the AEC exclusive authority to regulate radiation hazards.