NRC Finalizes Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage Rule
On August 26, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved a final rule for used fuel storage and as a result will lift its suspension of final licensing actions on nuclear power plant licenses and renewals.
In June 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down the NRC’s 2010 revision of its “waste confidence” rule. Waste confidence is the NRC’s position regarding the environmental impacts of storing spent nuclear fuel beyond the licensed life for operation of nuclear power plants.
The court found that in the NRC’s 2010 revision of the waste confidence rule, the agency did not consider the possibility that a repository for permanent disposal of spent fuel might never be built nor did the NRC conduct sufficient analysis of spent fuel pool leaks and fires.
The NRC responded to the court’s action by suspending licensing decisions on new reactors, license renewals, and spent fuel storage facility renewals. In addition, the NRC directed the development of a new rule and supporting Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS).
The recently released GEIS analysis looked at the storage of spent fuel beyond the licensed operating life of reactors over three timeframes: 60 years (short- term), 100 years (long- term), and indefinitely. The conclusion from the analysis was that there are no environmental impacts to storing spent fuel on site indefinitely in standardized industry dry cask storage. The NRC stated that the generic impacts of site used fuel storage do not need to be reanalyzed in the environmental reviews for individual licenses.
While the rule does not authorize, license, nor permit nuclear power plant licensees to store spent fuel for any length of time, it does provide an approved approach to site fuel storage that will subsequently preclude the need for site-specific reviews of spent fuel storage during the license review process. The NRC intends to resume issuing final licensing decisions for those licenses impacted by the suspension.
Nuclear industry supporters reacted favorably to this ruling by stating that the findings confirm the safety and security of used nuclear fuel storage under current multilayered protective strategies used at commercial nuclear energy facilities.
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