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NEI Supports NRC’s Proposed Used Fuel Temporary Storage Rule

Dec. 19, 2013—The Nuclear Energy Institute says it supports the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s conclusions that used nuclear fuel can continue to be stored in a safe and environmentally sound manner until it is removed for final disposal by the federal government.

In written comments being submitted this week on the NRC’s proposed “waste confidence” temporary storage rule and its associated draft generic environmental impact statement, NEI Vice President and General Counsel Ellen Ginsberg said the agency has produced “its most comprehensive analysis of the safety and environmental impacts of post-licensed-life storage of used nuclear fuel to date.”

Last year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned the NRC’s 2010 update to the temporary storage rule. 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 conduct a more extensive review of the environmental impacts of potential leaks and fires in used fuel storage pools.

In response to the court’s order and direction from the commission, agency staff developed a proposed rule and draft generic environmental study. Published for comment Sept. 13, the proposed rule concludes that used fuel can be safely stored in used fuel pools during the 60-year period following the licensed life for operation and for even longer periods of time in dry containers. The rule also concludes that a repository can be available within 60 years of the end of the licensed life of any reactor.

“This rulemaking is important to the commercial nuclear energy industry,” Ginsberg said, because its conclusions support the licensing of new power reactors and independent spent fuel storage installations, as well as the renewal of their licenses.

To elicit participation from interested stakeholders during the public comment period, the NRC held 13 meetings around the country. Transcripts and summaries of the meetings are available on the NRC’s waste confidence website.

Ginsberg commended the agency for maintaining an aggressive 24-month schedule for completing the rulemaking despite the October government shutdown and for conducting a public participation process that she termed “a model of transparency.”

Among NEI’s recommendations in its detailed comments, to be submitted by the Dec. 20 deadline, is a suggestion to change the title of the rule, which Ginsberg noted is a “historical artifact” and seems to cause confusion regarding the rule’s purpose. The comments also recommend changes to the language in the rule to more clearly capture the agency’s analysis and conclusions on repository availability and the continued safe and environmentally sound storage of used fuel.

NEI’s detailed written comments will be available after Dec. 20 on the Nuclear Energy Institute’s waste confidence page.

The NRC expects to finalize the rule by September 2014. Until then, the agency said it will hold off on issuing final licenses and relicenses for operating reactors and dry cask storage facilities.