Monday, September 10, 2012

NRC Directs Staff to Conduct Two-Year Environmental Study and Revision to Waste Confidence Rule

Washington (Platts)--6Sep2012/1218 pm EDT/1618 GMT

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission will develop an environmental impact decision and a revised waste confidence rule on the temporary storage of utility spent nuclear fuel, the commission said in a directive it issued to agency staff Thursday.

The EIS and new rule are to be completed within 24 months, NRC said in a statement Thursday.

The directive responds to a June 8 ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that called NRC's assessment of storing spent fuel for at least 120 years "deficient" and said the agency should have calculated "the environmental effects of failing to secure permanent storage" if a repository is never built. The rule was remanded to NRC.

The court also found deficiencies "with the agency's consideration of leaks and fires involving spent fuel pools," the agency said.

At issue was a revised waste confidence rule that NRC issued in 2010 that expressed the commission's confidence that spent fuel can be safely stored for at least 60 years after a reactor's operating license expires. Most, if not all, reactors have renewed their original 40-year operating licenses for another 20 years, which would make the oldest fuel at least 120 years old. The agency reached that conclusion without conducting an EIS.

NRC said in the statement that the commission's staff requirements memorandum "directed the staff to 'proceed directly' with development of the EIS and a revised waste confidence rule to satisfy the deficiencies the Appeals Court found in the NRC's 2010 waste confidence revision."

"Resolving this issue successfully is a Commission priority," NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane said in the agency statement. "Waste confidence plays a core role in many major licensing actions, such as new reactors and license renewals."

Last month, the commission issued an order suspending final action on all license applications dependent on waste confidence, such as applications for new reactors and for the license renewal of existing ones, until the court's remand on waste confidence is addressed. That meant the agency could review those applications, but would hold in abeyance any decision on whether to issue a license.

That order still remains in effect, NRC said in the statement. NRC said that the agency's Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards, which has regulatory responsibility over spent fuel storage and disposal, has set up a waste confidence directorate to develop the EIS. The directorate will be headed by Keith McConnell, the current deputy director of the division of waste management and environmental protection in NRC's Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management Programs.

--Elaine Hiruo, --Edited by Katharine Fraser,

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