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NRC Waste Confidence Public Meeting Comments, Jerry Bonanno, Oct. 1, 2013

Jerry Bonanno
Associate General Counsel
Nuclear Energy Institute
to the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission Waste Confidence Public Meeting
Oct. 1, 2013
My name is Jerry Bonanno and I’m with the Nuclear Energy Institute.  Thank you for the opportunity to offer comments at these public meetings. 
NEI will be providing comprehensive written comments on the proposed rule and draft GEIS in November.  My comments today are meant to support and be consistent with those written comments.
My brief comments will focus on the NRC’s definition of the proposed action and consideration of alternatives – particularly staff’s decision not to consider cessation of reactor licensing or operation, or the imposition of additional requirements as alternatives to the proposed action.  
NEI agrees with the NRC’s definition of the proposed action as promulgation of a rule that generically addresses the environmental impacts of used fuel storage – making such consideration largely unnecessary in individual licensing proceedings.
We also agree with NRC’s characterization of the alternatives to the proposed action, which generally consist of different methods of examining the impacts of used fuel storage during the continued storage period.  As the agency has consistently clarified, the waste confidence rulemaking is not a licensing decision and does not authorize construction or operation of nuclear power plants or the continued storage of used fuel at any specific site.  
Importantly, the staff has correctly concluded that stopping reactor licensing and operations is not an alternative required to be addressed under NEPA.  It is not an alternative that serves the purposes of the present rulemaking, which are (1) to improve the efficiency of NRC licensing actions through generic consideration of the environmental impacts of continued storage; (2) to capture this review in a single document; and (3) to respond to the court’s remand.  
Further, consideration of halting reactor licensing or operation does nothing further the NRC’s ability to identify and analyze the environmental impacts of extended storage of used fuel at, or away from, reactor sites.  Nor does it necessarily reflect the environmental benefits of nuclear plants.  
The costs and benefits, and alternatives to nuclear plant licensing – including not issuing licenses or license renewals – are fully addressed in environmental reviews for individual plants.  That is, consideration of not licensing a plant or allowing continued operation under a renewed license is appropriately addressed in the NEPA reviews conducted when licensing those specific plants. As clarified in the statements of consideration published with the proposed rule, although the waste confidence GEIS may inform these analyses in a limited way, it is not the appropriate context to consider these types of ‘no action’ alternatives.  
Finally, it is worth noting that more than 35 years ago the second circuit court of appeals in NRDC v. NRC confirmed halting reactor licensing until definitive findings on repository safety are reached is not required by the Atomic Energy Act.  
With respect to alternatives involving the imposition of new or additional regulatory requirements, NEI supports NRC’s conclusion that imposition of such requirements is outside the scope of the proposed action – which, again, is to explore alternatives that improve the efficiency of the licensing process through generic examination of the safety and environmental implications of continued storage.
We anticipate that the NRC will continue to assess the adequacy of its current framework for regulating safe storage through its existing processes, outside of this rulemaking.  There are several examples of this ongoing work, including the ISFSI security rulemaking and the staff’s recent work on the safety of spent fuel pool storage.   
In sum, we commend the NRC for its efforts to explain the context of its current waste confidence efforts and encourage the agency to continue to keep that context in mind as the process continues.
We look forward to participating in the remaining public meetings and submitting comprehensive written comments in November.