US nuclear power utilities will now be able to store used fuel onsite for up to 60 years after plant shutdown under revisions to regulations which came into effect today. This period had previously been limited to 30 years.
|The used fuel storage pool at the Harris plant in North Carolina (Image: Progress Energy)
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has revised its generic determination on the environmental impacts of storing used fuel at, or away from, reactor sites after the expiration of reactor operating licences. It has been some 20 years since the NRC's last formal review of its 'waste confidence'.
In a publication of its findings in the 23 December 2010 issue of the Federal Register, the NRC said that, "if necessary, spent fuel generated in any reactor can be stored safely and without significant environmental impacts for at least 60 years beyond the licensed life of operation (which may include the term of a revised or renewed licence) of that reactor in a combination of storage in its spent fuel storage basin or at either onsite or offsite independent spent fuel storage installations."
The NRC also said it found "reasonable assurance that sufficient mined geologic repository capacity will be available to dispose of the commercial high-level radioactive waste and spent fuel generated in any reactor when necessary."
The rules regarding interim used fuel storage have been revised accordingly, with the revisions taking effect from today. The change comes as the USA faces up to the task of reworking its entire management framework for used nuclear fuel.
Under the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the Department of Energy (DoE) was supposed to begin taking used fuel from nuclear energy facilities for final disposal from 1998. However, in February 2009, the administration of President Barack Obama announced that funding for the Yucca Mountain project had been reduced to all but zero and that a new plan for the disposal of the country's used nuclear fuel and high-level waste would be developed.
The Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future was formed in early 2010 "to conduct a comprehensive review of policies for managing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle and to provide recommendations for developing a safe, long-term solution to managing the nation’s used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste."
In April 2010, sixteen electricity utilities, together with US nuclear industry organisation the Nuclear Energy Institute, filed a lawsuit against the DoE seeking a suspension of payments into the country's nuclear waste fund. The federal government has also been sued by a number of utilities, which have been awarded compensation totalling some $1 billion by US courts.
Whether the Obama administration has the power to unilaterally end the Congressionally approved Yucca Mountain project is to be discussed in court from 22 March.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News