On 19 September 2014, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) published its final rule on Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel, concluding that used nuclear fuel from power plants can be stored indefinitely by utilities above ground at reactor sites without significant environmental impacts. The final rule means that new nuclear plants can be built and existing plants can expand their operations despite the lack of a long-term plan for disposing of the used fuel and high level waste in a permanent repository. For decades the NRC allowed nuclear plants to operate under its Waste Confidence Rule, which provided that, although there was no repository, there would most likely be one by the time it was needed. But in June 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that in reaching this conclusion, the NRC did not comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. As a result, the NRC suspended final licensing decisions on new reactors, reactor licence renewals and independent spent fuel storage facility renewals. The NRC’s final rule has been welcomed by many as a pragmatic solution to the problem of used fuel storage and a return to legal certainty under the licensing regime.
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