New Projects, Reactors, Waste Management & Decommissioning

NRC finalizes spent nuclear fuel storage rule, lifts licensing suspensions

NRC proposes amended annual fees regulations for FY 2016

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) finalized a used fuel storage rule and will lift the suspension of final licensing actions on nuclear power plant licenses and renewals once the rule become effective.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2012 struck down NRC’s 2010 revision of its so-called waste confidence rule and directed the NRC to consider the possibility that a geologic repository for the storage of spent nuclear fuel might never be built, and to do further analysis of spent fuel pool leaks and fires. NRC suspended final licensing decisions on new reactors, license renewals and spent fuel storage facility renewals in response to the ruling, and directed staff in September 2012 to develop a new rule and supporting Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) within 24 months.

“Resolving this issue successfully is a Commission priority,” said NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane in September 2012. “Waste confidence plays a core role in many major licensing actions, such as new reactors and license renewals.”

The current rule adopts the findings of the GEIS regarding the environmental impacts of storing spent fuel at any reactor site after the reactor’s licensed timeframe of operation. The GEIS also analyzes the environmental impact of storing spent fuel beyond the licensed operating life of reactors over 60 years (short-term), 100 years after the short-term scenario and indefinitely. The action approved the final rule and GEIS, renamed it from waste confidence to “continued storage of spent nuclear fuel.”

The commission expects the final rule and GEIS to be published in the Federal Register in September with a 30-day public comment period.

In a separate order, NRC approved lifting the suspensions and authorizes the staff to issue final licensing decisions as appropriate once the final rule becomes effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

The Nuclear Energy Institute released a statement saying it supports the NRC’s conclusion that spent fuel can be safely stored in dry casks during the short-term, long-term and indefinite time frames.

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee backed the NRC’s revamped rule and decision to end the license suspensions.

“This action is a welcome step in getting our nuclear future back on track. The NRC can resume fulfilling its core function of issuing licenses, and the commission’s first priority should be completing all pending licenses safely and as soon as possible,” commented full committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY), and Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL).

“This conclusion confirms the safety and security of used nuclear fuel under the multilayered protective strategies used at commercial nuclear energy facilities,” said Ellen Ginsburg, vice president, secretary and general counsel for NEI.

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