Skip to main content

What Does the NRC’s Order on Waste Confidence Mean for New Plant Licensing?

DryCaskStorage1-300x2252
Dry cask storage
It is not every day that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission advises everyone to “take a deep breath,” but when it comes to people misconstruing the facts about new plant licensing activities following a recent order, that is exactly what happened.

In a nutshell—last week, the NRC issued an order saying that it would not issue final reactor licenses or license renewals until the agency addresses a recent federal court ruling on waste confidence. Many people and some news articles mistakenly reported that this means all current licensing reviews and proceedings will come to a screeching halt, which is simply not the case. The order basically means that licensing reviews will move forward, but that final licensing will be put on hold.

The NRC clarified its position in a blog post late last week:
Let’s be clear: Tuesday’s Order was not a “Full Stop” to NRC’s licensing process. The Commission stated that licensing reviews should move forward—only final licensing was put on hold.
NEI’s Vice President and General Counsel Ellen Ginsberg weighed in:
The commission’s order is helpful in that license applicants can continue to pursue their licenses. Although there may be some delay in issuing some renewed licenses, NRC regulations provide that plant operation can continue beyond the original license term and until there is a decision on the renewal application, so long as it has been filed in a timely manner.
A level-headed article in Forbes’ over the weekend provides further background on the NRC’s order and how it relates to new plant licensing activities (bolded text added by me for emphasis):
There has been some fist-bumping this week in the anti-nuclear sector over the recent vacating of two NRC rules by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in June; the waste-confidence decision and the storage rule. The judges felt that the agency had failed to conduct an environmental impact statement, or a finding of no significant environmental impact, before ruling that it is safe to store nuclear waste in wet pools and dry casks without a permanent solution in sight. But it was just that the initial NRC rule was too vague, not that this type of storage is unsafe (platts NRC Ruling).
In response, the NRC this week voted unanimously to delay final approval of licenses for new nuclear plants, or renewing the licenses of existing facilities, until the agency responds with a more complete ruling and addresses the dilemma of long-term nuclear waste storage across the country.
The 24 environmental groups that petitioned NRC to respond to the court are acting like they actually stopped all action on nuclear licensing (Marketwatch NRC Ruling). While no final decisions will be made in issuing licenses, the process for licensing new and existing plants will continue as before, the NRC said, which means the impact to the industry will be minimal.
Also, reactors can operate even after their present license expires as long as it is the NRC that is dragging it out. And most reactors have already been relicensed in the last ten years.  Only 18 out of 104 reactors are not and primarily because they have to operate beyond 20 years before they can apply. The four new GenIII plants being built at Vogtle (Georgia) and V.C. Summer (South Carolina) are also not affected at all since their licenses have already been issued.
The NRC’s blog post continues:
Essentially, the Order represents a regulatory agency taking a deep breath while trying to decide the best way to satisfy the Court.
So, let’s all follow the NRC’s advice: inhale, exhale.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Making Clouds for a Living

Donell Banks works at Southern Nuclear’s Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 as a shift supervisor in Operations, but is in the process of transitioning to his newly appointed role as the daily work controls manager. He has been in the nuclear energy industry for about 11 years.

I love what I do because I have the unique opportunity to help shape the direction and influence the culture for the future of nuclear power in the United States. Every single day presents a new challenge, but I wouldn't have it any other way. As a shift supervisor, I was primarily responsible for managing the development of procedures and programs to support operation of the first new nuclear units in the United States in more than 30 years. As the daily work controls manager, I will be responsible for oversight of the execution and scheduling of daily work to ensure organizational readiness to operate the new units.

I envision a nuclear energy industry that leverages the technology of today to improve efficiency…

Why America Needs the MOX Facility

If Isaiah had been a nuclear engineer, he’d have loved this project. And the Trump Administration should too, despite the proposal to eliminate it in the FY 2018 budget.

The project is a massive factory near Aiken, S.C., that will take plutonium from the government’s arsenal and turn it into fuel for civilian power reactors. The plutonium, made by the United States during the Cold War in a competition with the Soviet Union, is now surplus, and the United States and the Russian Federation jointly agreed to reduce their stocks, to reduce the chance of its use in weapons. Over two thousand construction workers, technicians and engineers are at work to enable the transformation.

Carrying Isaiah’s “swords into plowshares” vision into the nuclear field did not originate with plutonium. In 1993, the United States and Russia began a 20-year program to take weapons-grade uranium out of the Russian inventory, dilute it to levels appropriate for civilian power plants, and then use it to produce…

Nuclear: Energy for All Political Seasons

The electoral college will soon confirm a surprise election result, Donald Trump. However, in the electricity world, there are fewer surprises – physics and economics will continue to apply, and Republicans and Democrats are going to find a lot to like about nuclear energy over the next four years.

In a Trump administration, the carbon conversation is going to be less prominent. But the nuclear value proposition is still there. We bring steady jobs to rural areas, including in the Rust Belt, which put Donald Trump in office. Nuclear plants keep the surrounding communities vibrant.

We hold down electricity costs for the whole economy. We provide energy diversity, reducing the risk of disruption. We are a critical part of America’s industrial infrastructure, and the importance of infrastructure is something that President-Elect Trump has stressed.

One of our infrastructure challenges is natural gas pipelines, which have gotten more congested as extremely low gas prices have pulled m…