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NRC OKs final rule on storage of used nuclear fuel; will end suspension of licensing actions

From the August 27, 2014 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published August 27, 2014

By Jeannine Anderson
Editor, Public Power Daily

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission yesterday approved a final rule on the environmental effects of continued storage of spent nuclear fuel and said it will lift its suspension of final licensing actions on nuclear power plant licenses and renewals once the rule becomes effective. The rule will take effect 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register. The NRC said it expects the rule to be published in September.

The commission’s action signals the end of a two-year effort to satisfy a directive from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In June 2012, the federal court struck down the NRC’s 2010 revision of its "waste confidence" rule. The court ordered the NRC to consider the possibility that a geologic repository for permanent disposal of spent fuel might never be built, and to do further analysis of spent fuel pool leaks and fires. Later that summer, the commission responded by suspending final licensing decisions on new reactors, reactor license renewals, and spent fuel storage facility renewals. The NRC then directed the commission's staff to develop a new rule and a supporting Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) within 24 months.

The continued storage rule adopts the findings of the GEIS regarding the environmental impacts of storing spent fuel at any reactor site after the reactor’s licensed period of operations, the NRC said Aug. 26. "As a result, those generic impacts do not need to be re-analyzed in the environmental reviews for individual licenses."

The GEIS analyzes the environmental impact of storing spent fuel beyond the licensed operating life of reactors over three time frames: for 60 years (short-term); 100 years after the short-term scenario (long-term); and indefinitely.

The GEIS also analyzes impacts across a number of resource areas throughout each time frame. Areas examined include land use, air and water quality, and historic and cultural resources. The environmental review also contains the NRC’s analysis of spent fuel pool leaks and fires in response to the appeals court remand.

The rule does not authorize, license or otherwise permit nuclear power plant licensees to store spent fuel for any length of time, the NRC said.

The Aug. 26 action approved the final rule and GEIS, which has been renamed from "waste confidence" to "continued storage of spent nuclear fuel." The name was changed in response to "near-unanimous" public comment, the NRC said. A proposed rule and draft GEIS were published in September 2013, with a public comment period of 98 days. The staff conducted 13 public meetings across the country to take public comments.

More information is posted on the NRC's website.



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Vice President, Integrated Media and Communications
Meena Dayak

Editorial Director
Robert Varela

Editor, Public Power Daily
Jeannine Anderson

Communications Assistant
Fallon W. Forbush

Manager, Integrated Media 
David L. Blaylock

Integrated Media Editor 
Laura D’Alessandro