- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The five-member commission that oversees the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a decision Tuesday afternoon delaying any final decisions on pending new reactor or relicensing applications, which means any final decision from the commission regarding the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant Unit 3 is on hold.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision comes after receiving a “series of substantively identical petitions to suspend final licensing decisions,” according to a memo from the commission.
The commission’s decision extends only to final license issuance and all licensing reviews and proceedings can continue to move forward, said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan.
Therefore, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Atomic Safety and Licensing Board can still issue its decision regarding Calvert Cliffs Unit 3 on or before Aug. 31, because the ASLB doesn’t have final say, according to Sheehan, who says the NRC Commission holds that power.
In June, the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit remanded the spent nuclear fuel storage issue back to the NRC for further consideration, and the commission decided to render final decisions.
He said the issue began many years ago in 1984, when the NRC created a waste confidence decision, which explains that any operating or future operating nuclear plants would be able to remove the spent nuclear fuel within 30 years after operation.
But, he continued, with no recycling of nuclear fuel in the U.S., the commission released an updated version of the waste confidence decision declaring spent fuel could be safely kept on site for 60 years after operation.
In the December 2010 issue of the Federal Register Notice, it states “the commission believes there is reasonable assurance that sufficient mined geological repository capacity will be available to dispose of the commercial high-level radioactive waste and spent fuel generated in any reactor when necessary.”
The update was challenged by states and environmental agencies in the court system, Sheehan said.
“Four states, an Indian community and a number of environmental groups” have filed the petitions, court documents state.
Sheehan explained the court found the NRC violated the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which requires federal agencies to examine and report on the environmental consequences of their actions, with the 2010 update to the waste confidence decision and the temporary storage rule.
According to the act, each federal agency must prepare an environmental impact statement before taking a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment. An agency can avoid preparing such a statement if it conducts an environmental assessment and makes a finding of no significant impact.
The court found that the waste confidence decision requires either the environmental impact statement or an environmental assessment with no significant environmental impact finding under the NEP act.
The court also found that the commission’s environmental assessment of the risks of spent nuclear fuel is “deficient in two ways.”
The first, according to the court, is that the commission didn’t calculate the environmental effects of failing to secure permanent storage “when necessary.”
And, secondly, the court found that the commission failed to properly examine future dangers and key consequences in determining that spent fuel can be safely stored on site for 60 years after the expiration of a plant’s license.
“This is another [case] in the growing line of cases involving the federal government’s failure to establish a permanent repository for civilian nuclear waste,” according to court documents.
The NRC Commission memo states that no course of action has been determined yet and the public will be able to comment in advance on any generic waste confidence document that the NRC releases.