NRC Pushes Back Key Rulemaking Following Government Shutdown

Douglas P. Guarino, Global Security Newswire
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Douglas P. Guarino, Global Security Newswire
Oct. 29, 2013, 11:02 a.m.

WASH­ING­TON — The Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion is push­ing back by three weeks the dead­line for pub­lic com­ments on a con­tro­ver­sial rule that could de­term­ine the fate of all nuc­le­ar power plant li­cens­ing de­cisions.

NRC of­fi­cials an­nounced on Monday that it now will ac­cept com­ments on the so-called “waste con­fid­ence” rule through Dec. 20. The delay is a res­ult of this month’s fed­er­al gov­ern­ment shut­down, which las­ted nearly three weeks and forced the com­mis­sion to post­pone pub­lic meet­ings on the rule that it had planned to hold throughout the coun­try.

Re­vi­sion of the rule was promp­ted by a fed­er­al ap­peals court rul­ing last year. The court sided with the states of New York, Con­necti­c­ut, Mas­sachu­setts and Ver­mont, which ar­gued the com­mis­sion had wrongly as­sumed spent-re­act­or fuel even­tu­ally would move to a per­man­ent waste re­pos­it­ory, even though the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion can­celed the long-delayed Yucca Moun­tain pro­ject in Nevada.

In or­der for the com­mis­sion to li­cense nuc­le­ar fa­cil­it­ies, it must make a reg­u­lat­ory de­term­in­a­tion that it has “con­fid­ence” the waste such fa­cil­it­ies cre­ate will be dis­posed safely. In the ab­sence of a per­man­ent re­pos­it­ory, the court ruled the com­mis­sion must ex­am­ine the po­ten­tial con­sequences of fires in spent fuel pools — where much of the waste cur­rently is stored. Crit­ics have ar­gued the pools are vul­ner­able to ter­ror­ist at­tacks giv­en that they are loc­ated out­side re­act­or’s con­tain­ment struc­tures, and in some cases in an el­ev­ated area they claim is more sus­cept­ible to air at­tacks.

NRC of­fi­cials on Sept. 13 pro­posed a new waste con­fid­ence rule that they claim ad­dresses the court’s con­cerns. It already is prompt­ing cri­ti­cism, with the same group of states that pre­vailed in the ori­gin­al law­suit ar­guing that the scope of a new re­view of the im­pacts of leav­ing waste at plant sites is not as broad as the court man­dated.

In­dustry rep­res­ent­at­ives, mean­while, ar­gue the new rule ad­dresses all the is­sues raised by the court and in some cases goes fur­ther than ne­ces­sary.

Ac­cord­ing to Monday’s an­nounce­ment, com­mis­sion staff will host meet­ings on the rule Nov. 12 in Oak Brook, Ill.; Nov. 18 in Carls­bad, Cal­if.; Nov. 20 in San Lu­is Obispo, Cal­if.; Dec. 2 in Perry­s­burg, Ohio; and Dec. 4 in Min­netonka, Minn. An ad­di­tion­al tele­con­fer­ence will take place on Dec. 9.

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