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NRC OKs Publication of Draft Waste Confidence Rule

Aug. 7, 2013—The NRC commissioners have unanimously approved the publication of a proposed temporary storage rule and draft generic environmental impact statement to address the feasibility of safely storing used nuclear fuel beyond the operating lifetime of a reactor.

The commission has directed agency staff to make certain changes before issuing the rule—generally referred to as the “waste confidence rule”—for public comment. When published in its final form, the rule would satisfy the legal requirements that the NRC consider environmental impacts of long-term storage as part of its licensing reviews for individual reactors and on-site storage in dry casks.

The rule and draft generic environmental impact statement are being prepared in response to a June 2012 federal appeals court ruling that struck down the previous rule. The court said the NRC needed to provide additional analysis of the potential environmental effects of indefinitely storing used fuel at reactor sites should the government fail to establish a repository.

The draft proposed rule concludes that it is feasible to safely store used fuel after the licensed life of the facility and that a repository can be available within 60 years of the end of operations of any reactor.

The draft generic environmental impact statement provides the regulatory basis for the proposed rule and supports its conclusions. The staff analyzed the environmental effects of storing used fuel in pools or dry casks for periods of 60 and 160 years after the licensed life of a reactor (“short-term” and “long-term” timeframes) and for an indefinite period, for the scenario that assumes a repository never becomes available. 

Based on these analyses, the proposed rule 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 commission’s Aug. 5 instructions to agency staff list clarifications that must be added to the rule when the documents are released for public comment. These include further explanations of key assumptions, such as on the long-term continuation of institutional controls that would enable the dry cask systems to be regularly replaced.

Among the issues on which public comment should be solicited, the commission said, is whether and how any timeline for repository availability should be considered in the rule.

The staff is expected to complete the revisions and publish the final documents in September for a 75-day public comment period. The documents also will be available on the NRC’s waste confidence Web page.

The commission also asked the staff to consider adding an additional public meeting venue to the 10 locations it already is planning to hold meetings during the public comment period. The dates and locations of the public meetings will be announced on the NRC website.

The final rule is expected to be finalized by summer 2014.