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NEI Suggests New Name for ‘Waste Confidence’ Rule

Nov. 19, 2013—As public meetings continue on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s review of the effects of long-term storage of used fuel at nuclear power plant sites, NEI has urged the agency to stop using the term “waste confidence” and rename the rule that is being developed.

At a public meeting last week at the NRC’s Rockville, Md., headquarters, NEI also continued to express its support for the NRC’s review of environmental impacts related to the storage of used fuel on site after the termination of a reactor’s operating license.

NEI said it “strongly supports discontinuing using the term ‘waste confidence.’”

“It is a historical artifact and does not provide a useful description of the agency’s analysis and conclusions on repository availability and the continued safe and environmentally sound storage of used fuel,” Ellen Ginsberg, NEI’s vice president and general counsel, said.

“To avoid the confusion and mischaracterization that the term waste confidence creates, we recommend that the rule be retitled ‘Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel for the Period After Licensed Term of Operation,’” she said.

The so-called waste confidence rule and accompanying environmental impact statement support the NRC’s finding that used fuel can be safely stored at plant sites without significant environmental effects from the time a reactor’s license expires until the fuel is removed for final disposal. The finding expresses confidence that a repository will be available when needed.

The public meetings are seeking comments as the agency finalizes a revised rule to replace the 2010 rule that was overturned last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The court ordered the agency to consider the potential environmental consequences of the federal government’s failure to build a permanent repository. It also required the agency to analyze the environmental impacts of potential leaks and fires in used fuel storage pools.

The NRC’s proposed rule, published for public comment Sept. 13, concludes that storage in used fuel 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.

After the court decision, the NRC suspended the issuance of new reactor licenses and renewals for existing reactors and dry cask storage facilities until a new rule is finalized. The agency has targeted September 2014 for issuing the final rule.

While praising the agency’s efforts on the rulemaking, Ginsberg also encouraged the NRC staff to “make every effort to more clearly articulate the purpose and substance of the [waste confidence] rule and generic environmental impact statement.”    

Citing the analysis that the NRC has developed in response to the court ruling, Ginsberg said, “We believe the agency has ample reason to remain confident that a safe disposal option will be available and that continued storage can be accomplished in a safe and environmentally sound manner in the meantime.” 

Other participants at the meeting urged the NRC to move forward with the waste confidence rulemaking.

“Our members follow the issue of waste confidence closely,” said Katrina McMurrian, executive director of the Nuclear Waste Strategy Coalition, a public-private coalition. “We compliment the [NRC’s waste confidence] directorate’s outreach efforts as well as their ability to adhere to the schedule laid out by the commission. We underscore the importance of maintaining the schedule so that NRC licensing decisions will not be unduly delayed.”

Ben Husch of the National Conference of State Legislatures added that the NRC should continue to advance the waste confidence rulemaking efficiently.

“We believe it is important for the NRC to continue its efforts and to maintain its current schedule for waste confidence proceedings so that progress on both plant licensing and used fuel management can continue,” said Husch.

Comments on the proposed rulemaking are due Dec. 20. Ginsberg said that NEI would provide more detailed comments in writing before the deadline.

The NRC has conducted nine public meetings on the issue at locations around the country. The final three are scheduled for Nov. 20 in San Luis Obispo, Calif.; Dec. 2 in Perrysburg, Ohio; and Dec. 4 in Minnetonka, Minn.

For more information, see the pages on waste confidence on the NRC website.