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Industry Views Well-Represented at Initial Waste Confidence Public Meeting

Oct. 3, 2013—The first of 12 public meetings held by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission during the 75-day comment period on its proposed rule and environmental study on the effects of extended storage of used nuclear fuel was well-attended by a balanced group of stakeholders, including representatives of the nuclear energy industry and pro-industry groups.

Speaking at an Oct. 1 public meeting at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Md., Ellen Ginsberg, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s vice president and general counsel, commended the NRC staff for its efforts on the waste confidence rulemaking. Calling the proceeding an “excellent example of regulatory transparency,” she said the NRC’s extensive outreach to the public will ensure that all viewpoints are represented in the record for the final waste confidence rule.

Ginsberg also expressed support for the agency’s efforts to clarify the waste confidence concept and related issues. She said that it is important to understand that the waste confidence rule—and its supporting generic environmental impact statement—is but one element of the agency’s licensing process, covering only the period between license expiration and pickup of used fuel for disposal. “Individual plants still must be licensed individually, with full reviews of safety and environmental issues” for the license term, she said.

Pro-nuclear stakeholders attending the meeting included young representatives of CASEnergy Coalition, who spoke passionately about their belief in the future of “clean and safe nuclear energy” as a solution to climate change. A representative from the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Union also presented strong support for nuclear energy, saying union members would like to see more nuclear plants built.

The NRC has scheduled 11 additional public meetings around the country to receive comments on its draft waste confidence rule and environmental impact study, including one meeting this week in Denver and two next week near nuclear plants in California. Regarding the government shutdown and its effect on NRC activities, the agency said it has carryover funds to continue normal operations for about a week (see related article in this week’s Nuclear Energy Overview) and would announce its plans for the remaining meetings on the NRC’s waste confidence Web page.

“Waste confidence” describes the generic finding that used nuclear fuel can be safely stored for decades beyond the licensed operating life of a reactor without significant environmental effects and that a repository for the final disposal of used fuel will be available when needed. Because the waste confidence conclusions are embodied in a rule, the NRC can license reactors or renew their licenses without a site-specific review because the environmental analysis underlying the rule encompasses all facilities.

A federal appeals court last year vacated the 2010 rule, ordering the NRC to take into consideration the potential environmental consequences of the federal government’s failing to build a permanent repository. The court also required the agency to further analyze the environmental impacts of potential used fuel storage pool leaks and fires. In response, the NRC temporarily suspended the issuance of new reactor licenses and renewals for existing reactors and dry cask storage facilities.

The NRC’s proposed rule, published for public comment Sept. 13, concludes that storage in reactor pools is feasible for 60 years after the licensed life of a reactor and in dry casks for indefinite periods, assuming that dry storage systems can be replaced every 100 years. The rule also concludes that a repository can be available within 60 years of the end of operations of any reactor.

Comments on the rule may be submitted to the NRC in person at the upcoming meetings or via email and telephone. NEI has materials available to assist those intending to submit comments. These include:

·         a fact sheet on used fuel storage at plant sites and on the NRC “waste confidence” rulemaking that is the basis for the public meeting

·         NEI’s comments made at the Oct. 1 public meeting

·         a short YouTube video providing a condensed version of NEI’s Oct. 1 statement.