UPDATE: NRC freezes new nuclear power plant licenses, license renewals

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on August 7 voted to put a hold on making final decisions on combined construction and operating licenses (COLs) for new nuclear power plants and 20-year license renewals for existing plants in response to the Waste Confidence Rule decision of June 8th by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

“We will not issue licenses dependent upon the Waste Confidence Decision or the Temporary Storage Rule until the court’s remand is appropriately addressed,” the NRC said in its Commission Order. “This determination extends just to final license issuance; all licensing reviews and proceedings should continue to move forward.”

The order does not impact the COLs for the Plant Vogtle and V.C. Summer station expansions taking place in Georgia and South Carolina.

“The earliest potential final licensing decisions were the Levy County COL and the Indian Point license renewal, but both of those still have a hearing to go through in any case,” said NRC spokesperson David McIntyre in an email.  “Those hearings aren't expected to be finished until sometime next year.”

The NRC action was sought in a June 18, 2012 petition filed by 24 groups urging the NRC to respond to the court ruling by freezing final licensing decisions until it has completed a rulemaking action on the environmental impacts of radioactive nuclear waste in the form of spent, or ‘used’, reactor fuel storage and disposal.

On June 8th, the court threw out the NRC rule that permitted licensing and re-licensing of nuclear reactors based on the supposition that the NRC will find a way to dispose of spent reactor fuel to be generated by reactors at some time in the future when it becomes “necessary” and in the meantime, spent fuel can be stored safely at reactor sites.

“We are disappointed by the court’s decision as we believe that the NRC supported its conclusions in the waste confidence decision,” said Ellen Ginsberg, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s vice president and general counsel on June 8th. “Nonetheless, we urge the commission to act expeditiously to undertake the additional environmental analysis identified by the court in the remand. We also encourage the agency to reissue the rule as soon as possible.”

Licensing activities will continue and final licensing decisions would wait until the agency decides a course of action on the waste confidence issue, said McIntyre.  McIntyre said the staff expects to provide the commission options on waste confidence within weeks, although there is not a timetable in place for an NRC vote.

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