Today, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ("NRC") approved a final rule amending 10 C.F.R. Part 51 regarding the environmental impacts of renewed operating licenses. The revision is based upon the updated Generic Environmental Impact Statement ("GEIS") for the license renewal of nuclear power plants. The GEIS, first promulgated in 1996, determined that certain environmental impacts associated with license renewal were the same or similar for all plants, and therefore, could be treated on a generic basis to avoid repetitive reviews. Based on information learned through license renewal environmental reviews since 1996, the revised Part 51 rule and updated GEIS redefine the number and scope of environmental impact issues that must be addressed on a case-specific basis.

Notably, in the final rule, the NRC moved away from its original proposal to include "groundwater and soil contamination" as a new Category 2 issue (an issue that cannot be evaluated generically and would require site-specific analyses). Ultimately, the NRC adopted the position that the overall impact of industrial practices on groundwater use and quality from past and current operations is small for all nuclear power plants and is not expected to change appreciably during the license renewal term. Therefore, the final rule includes this issue under the heading of "groundwater contamination and use (non-cooling system impacts)," and classifies it as a Category 1 issue (generically evaluated to have small environmental impacts and not requiring site-specific analyses in the absence of new and significant information).

Additionally, the Commission instructed the NRC staff to modify the final rule and GEIS in light of the D.C. Circuit's vacatur of the 2010 waste confidence decision (WCD) and temporary storage rule (TSR) in New York v. NRC. It directed the staff tomake conforming changes to the GEIS and associated rule when it updates the WCD and TSR – an ongoing effort scheduled for completion in September 2014. Although the staff has the discretion to decide when to make the conforming changes (concurrent with the WCD and TSR update, or after they have been completed), the Commission emphasized that the decision should have no adverse impact on the strict schedule established for revising the WCD and TSR.

The compliance date for the final rule is 12 months from publication in Federal Register, despite the industry's request for an 18-month compliance date.