The NRC staff has submitted to the Commission a proposal for the final Waste Confidence rule. The staff’s submittal also includes the proposed Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS), which assesses the environmental impacts of storing spent fuel for the period after the license for a nuclear reactor expires until the fuel is removed from the site for disposal by the federal government (as required by current law). The revised Waste Confidence rule and GEIS are the result of the NRC’s response to a 2012 decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found deficient the prior rule’s analysis related to spent fuel pool fires, spent fuel pool leaks, and a potential lack of availability of a permanent repository.
On its face, the staff’s proposal addresses the three issues identified by the Court on remand. It also streamlines the prior Waste Confidence rule in several ways. First, instead of discussing the impacts of continued spent fuel pool storage in the rule itself, it simply points to the generically assessed impacts discussed in the GEIS. Second, the traditional Waste Confidence “Findings” regarding repository availability and spent fuel storage safety have been moved into the GEIS. Third, the name of the rule has been changed to “Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel.” Of course, these changes are not final until approved by the Commission. (The Commission’s decision on the proposed rule was discussed in a previous post.)
The final rule is scheduled to be issued in early October, which will require the Commission to act expeditiously to avoid delays. In the meantime, final decisions on licensing actions that will rely on the rule and GEIS will continue to be suspended. We expect that, in conjunction with its consideration of the final rule, the Commission will also develop direction to Atomic Safety and Licensing Boards on how to address pending Waste Confidence contentions that have been suspended in adjudicatory hearings pending the final rule (previously discussed here).