NRC to Study Longterm Radioactive Waste Options
Decision comes nearly three months after a federal appeals court threw out a rule that would allow nuclear plants to store radioactive waste on site for up to 60 years after a plant closes
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will be re-evaluating its plan for spent fuel storage with a two-year environmental study after a federal appeals court threw out a rule that would allow nuclear plants, including Oyster Creek Generating Station, to store radioactive waste on site for up to 60 years after a plant shuts down.
“Resolving this issue successfully is a Commission priority,” NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane said in a news release. “Waste confidence plays a core role in many major licensing actions, such as new reactors and license renewals.”
The NRC directed the agency’s staff today to develop an environmental impact statement (EIS) and a revised waste confidence decision and rule on the temporary storage of spent nuclear fuel.
This decision was in response to a June 8 ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. A three-judge panel unanimously decided that the NRC did not fully evaluate the risks associated with long-term storage of nuclear waste.
Last year, New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection said the NRC’s ruling to extend on-site storage from 30 to 60 years was unacceptable. The state entered a legal challenge of the NRC’s revised Waste Confidence Rule along with New York, Vermont and Connecticut.
The failure of the NRC to conduct an adequate environmental impact statement was troubling, DEP Commissioner Bob Martin previously said. In its court challenge, the state contended that the NRC acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in developing the new 60-year rule without performing an environmental impact statement as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
The federal court ruling determined that the NRC should have considered the long term environmental effects in the event that a permanent repository for disposing spent fuel is never built. Other deficiencies with the NRC’s consideration of leaks and fires involving spent fuel pools were also found.
Although Edith Gbur of Jersey Shore Nuclear Watch previously considered the court ruling a victory for those living in close proximity to nuclear plants, the NRC’s response does not give her confidence, she said.
“I just think they’re playing games,” she said. “They’re doing this because there’s pressure on the problems. They’re just spending more money, and it’s not worth it because they’re testing everything to death.”
However, the NRC’s decision to address the court ruling could bring more attention to nuclear power and its issues, providing an educational advantage, Gbur said.
The NRC’s Staff Requirements Memorandum requires staff to draw on the agency’s “long, rich history” with waste confidence determinations as well as work performed by other agencies, such as environmental assessments, technical studies, and reports that address the transportation and consolidated storage of spent fuel.
The Commission also issued an order on Aug. 7 that licenses will not be issued based on the waste confidence rule until the court’s remand is addressed.
The Environmental Impact Statement and rule will take two years and will provide the opportunity for public comment. The NRC also directed staff to form an inter-office team of the agency’s environmental experts to develop the EIS and resolve comments “with the urgency that this matter deserves.”
The Staff Requirements Memorandum included four options for addressing policy issues resulting from the court decision to vacate the waste confidence and decision rule. The approach options can be found here.
Based on those options, the NRC intends to reissue the 2010 rule with a revised basis to address the court-identified deficiencies. The NRC also recommends developing a general analysis that would address the deficiencies and use that analysis for affected NRC licensing actions issued between now and the time when the Waste Confidence update is completed.
A Waste Confidence Directorate with the responsibility of developing the waste confidence EIS has been established. Dr. Keith I. McConnell, currently the deputy director of the Division of Waste Management and Environmental Protection in the Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management Programs, will head the directorate.