NRC proposes changes to used fuel storage rules

25 July 2014

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has issued its draft final rule and draft generic environmental impact statement (GEIS) on the continued storage of used fuel.

The rule updates NRC's 2010 "waste confidence" decision, which the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned in 2012 because it said the agency had failed to consider what would happen if a repository is not built, or the environmental impact of potential fires and used fuel pool leaks at nuclear power plants.

The NRC's licensing proceedings for nuclear reactors and independent used fuel storage installations have historically relied upon the GEIS statement in the regulatory code titled Environmental Impacts of Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel Beyond the Licensed Life for Operations of a Reactor. They have done so in order to satisfy the NRC's obligations under the National Environment Policy Act.

The purpose of the draft final rule issued yesterday is to adopt into NRC regulations the agency's generic determinations of the environmental impacts of the continued storage of used nuclear fuel beyond the licensed life for operations of a reactor. The draft GEIS meanwhile addresses the environmental impacts of continued storage and provides a regulatory basis for the rule.

The draft final rule asserts that environmental impact statements for future reactor and used fuel storage facility licensing actions will not separately analyse the basis for such impacts of continued storage. They will instead incorporate GEIS determinations.

"Environmental assessments for future reactor and spent-fuel-storage facility licensing actions will consider the environmental impacts of continued storage, if the impacts of continued storage of spent fuel are relevant to the proposed action," the NRC said.

The final rule is effective 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register.

Asked when that would be, NRC spokesman David McIntyre said, "The Commission needs to vote on them first, but staff [are] hoping for October 3."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News