NRC Freezes Licensing Decisions To Consider Waste Options

Posted on August 9th, 2012 by Shelley Welton

by Casey Graetz, Intern

On August 7 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued an official memorandum and order to suspend final licensing decisions on new licenses and on license renewals for nuclear power plants. This action by the NRC does not affect the agency’s review of license applications, and only holds up final decisions. The memorandum comes after the June 8th ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that the NRC had violated the National Environmental Policy Act in issuing its 2010 update to its Waste Confidence Decision and accompanying Temporary Storage Rule. The court not only found that the NRC’s rules could not guarantee a final waste repository would be ready “when necessary,” but that the NRC had also not properly examined the consequences of storing used nuclear fuel on-site for up to 60 years after a plant’s license had expired.

The court decision resulted in many anti-nuclear groups filing essentially identical petitions that called for the NRC to stop issuing individual plant licenses pending the completion of its action on the remanded Waste Confidence proceeding. These petitions also requested an opportunity for public comment for any generic determinations the NRC might make in either an environmental assessment or impact statement and at least a 60-day period for “any site-specific concerns relating to the remanded proceedings.”

In addressing the demands of these petitions, the August 7 memorandum states that the NRC will not issue any license dependent upon the Waste Confidence Decision or the Temporary Storage Rule. It also made clear that the public will be given an opportunity to comment on any generic waste confidence document that the NRC issues and that litigants will be able to challenge site-specific actions.

The anti-nuclear groups who filed the petitions hailed the action, issuing a statement saying the memorandum will freeze eight plant license renewals, nine applications to build new reactors, an operating license and an early site permit. NRC spokesman said of these licenses that much talked about Entergy Corp. Indian Point power plant in New York is “next in line” for renewal of its license after the NRC addresses the court’s remand.

The NRC has yet to determine whether its action to resolve the waste confidence issue will be generic, site-specific or a combination of the two. According to a spokesman, although there is no timetable for the NRC to take action, the NRC staff is expected to provide options to the commission in the coming weeks.

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