US Delays Nuclear Licensing Decisions Over Waste Storage

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is postponing at least 19 nuclear licensing decisions while it considers new policies for disposal and storage of nuclear waste.

The NRC decision affects nine construction & operating licenses, eight license renewals, one operating license, and one early site permit, according to the 24 environmental and citizens’ groups that petitioned for their delay.

Among the affected projects are Ameren Corp.’s 20-year license renewal at its Callaway County plant in Missouri; a renewal request by the Calvert Cliffs power plant in southern Maryland; and a request by Florida Power & Light to build two new reactors at its Turkey Point nuclear plant south of Miami. 

NRC’s action is a response to a petition filed by 24 groups including the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League urging it to freeze final licensing decisions until progress is made on a federal storage and disposal strategy for spent reactor fuel.

About 65,000 tons are stored at 75 nuclear reactors around the US. A central storage site on Yucca Mountain in Nevada was identified in 1987, but the state pushed back against it. 

In June, a federal appeals court found NRC’s current strategy for dealing with waste insufficient. It noted NRC "has no long-term plan other than hoping for a geologic repository, " and ordered it to examine the environmental consequences of storing spent fuel at reactor sites on a permanent basis.

Diane Curran, an attorney representing some of the groups in the Court of Appeals case, says: "This Commission decision halts all final licensing decisions — but not the licensing proceedings themselves — until NRC completes a thorough study of the environmental impacts of storing and disposing of spent nuclear fuel. That study should have been done years ago, but NRC just kept kicking the can down the road. When the Federal Appeals Court ordered NRC to stop and consider the impacts of generating spent nuclear fuel for which it has found no safe means of disposal, the agency could choose to appeal the decision by August 22nd or choose to do the serious work of analyzing the environmental impacts over the next few years. With today’s Commission decision, we are hopeful that the agency will undertake the serious work."

When the Obama administration approved the first US nuclear plants in 30 years in early 2012, dozens of potential projects were announced. Many of those plans have been delayed or scrapped because of financing problems, lower electricity demand and the emergence of cheaper, easier alternatives such as natural gas. Two plants in approved in Georgia and South Carolina are already behind schedule and face millions of dollars in cost overruns. 

For more on the groups behind the petition:

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