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Nuclear industry stymied by NRC freezing licensing decisions

The NRC will be forced to analyze the potential for fires and leaks at wet spent fuel pools to comply with NEPA and to establish a timeline for how long the waste must be stored on site, 

NUCLEAR WASTE: Industry, activists gird for fallout from waste debate Hannah Northey, E&E NewsGreenwire:   August 10, 2012  The nuclear industry tried to quell anxiety yesterday about the government’s decision to freeze licensing decisions while tackling the country’s nuclear waste woes, but environmentalists and some experts say change is afoot for the nuclear fleet because of an underlying court case.

At issue is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision this week to delay final license approvals and extensions until it answers a federal appeals court’s ruling that found the commission’s “waste confidence” rule violated the National Environmental Policy Act.

The rule, the court said, didn’t fully consider the potential for fires and leaks at spent fuel pools and had inappropriately assumed Congress would find a final repository “when necessary.” The court vacated both the waste confidence decision and a separate storage rule (Greenwire, June 8)…..

environmental groups and legal and nuclear experts say the NRC’s licensing freeze and response to the court could portend more far-reaching changes for how the United States handles nuclear waste.

“I think this is a game-changer,” said Richard Webster, an attorney for the public interest law firm Public Justice in Washington, D.C. “It really puts the pressure on the agency to solve the problem, and it’s getting to the point where kicking the can down the road is more and more difficult.”

The NRC will be forced to analyze the potential for fires and leaks at wet spent fuel pools to comply with NEPA and to establish a timeline for how long the waste must be stored on site, said Diane Curran, an attorney who represented the environmental groups in the case.

Those requirements could push the agency into uncomfortable territory that bleeds into the politics surrounding the now-abandoned nuclear waste repository under Yucca Mountain, Nev., she said.

“It’s clear, now, that there’s no known solution for this spent fuel,” Curran said. “It may need to be stored above ground indefinitely for hundreds of years, and that raises enormous questions about the containers you keep it in, how you regulate those [structures] for hundreds of years.”…..


Essentially, the agency will need to respond to the court’s ruling that the waste confidence decision constituted a “major federal action” that requires “either an environmental impact statement or a finding of no significant environmental impact.”

The commission will need to address the tricky question of when and if a national repository will be found, said Lake Barrett, the former head of the Energy Department’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management.

The Obama administration abandoned Yucca Mountain two years ago and created a Blue Ribbon Commission to review alternatives for storing and disposing of waste. The Energy Department has not yet released a long-awaited report about how to implement the expert panel’s recommendations, which included a call for the construction of one or more repositories.

“How long the waste is in the pool, 50 to 60 years, you can talk about that. If it’s hundreds of years, then it’s a political question,” Barrett said. “That’s going to be a challenge for the NRC to account for the time element.”….

August 13, 2012 - Posted by | safety, USA

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