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Judge's surprise ruling revives 2nd Apollo nuclear lawsuit

| Friday, Feb. 28, 2014, 12:51 a.m.

In a stunning reversal, a federal judge in Pittsburgh overturned a ruling to keep alive a second federal lawsuit alleging harmful radioactive emissions in Apollo.

Judge David Cercone ruled Thursday that primary expert testimony on behalf of more than 75 plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit first filed in 2010 can still stand for an upcoming trial.

The defendants are Babcock & Wilcox Power Generation Group and the Atlantic Richfield Co., which operated a uranium fuel-processing plant founded by the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp., or NUMEC, in Apollo and a plutonium plant in Parks. The plants operated from about 1957 to 1986.

“This was a substantial victory for the plaintiffs,” said Steven Baicker-McKee, an assistant professor of law at Duquesne University, who has 25 years in private practice handling toxic tort, environmental and energy-related litigation.

“The bottom line is that all of the experts can go to the jury,” he said.

Such a reversal is unusual, according to Baicker-McKee.

Last July, Robert C. Mitchell, a U.S. magistrate judge, threw out the plaintiffs' primary expert testimony.

During pretrial motions, attorneys for the plaintiffs and defendants had been fighting over expert reports on whether radioactive emissions from the now-razed nuclear fuel plant in Apollo caused death and personal injury.

Those proceedings weed out “junk science,” with the court acting a gatekeeper, according to Baicker-McKee.

Apparently, Judge Cercone's ruling confirms that the plaintiffs' experts have met the threshold to go to a jury.

“We are pleased with the ruling,” said Jonathan Orent with Motley Rice's Rhode Island office, the lead plaintiff attorney.

“This will help our clients move forward with the lawsuit and get them their day in court,” he said.

Calls to attorney representing the defendants were not returned immediately Thursday.

The companies have always claimed that nuclear operations did not pose harmful conditions outside of the plant.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com.

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