A recent decision from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) offers hope that the nuclear industry’s free ride is coming to an end. The problem of what to do with the ever-growing amount of nuclear waste that is stockpiled at nuclear sites around the country has been vexing industry and regulators for years. It is a shameful reminder of poor management. Our nuclear reactors continue to operate and generate more waste when we have no real solution for its long-term storage.
Absent a permanent answer, the waste sits where it ends up when it is no longer useful. In the case of Vermont, it sits on the banks of the Connecticut River or in a spent fuel pool of the same style and vintage as was used at the Fukushima reactor.
On August 7, the NRC decided no new or extended licenses will be finalized until the Commission completes the environmental review of waste issues that a Federal Appeals Court required in a June decision. Specifically the NRC decided it will:
(1) suspend final licensing decisions in reactor licensing cases, pending the completion of our action on the remanded Waste Confidence proceeding; (2) provide an opportunity for public comment on any generic determinations that we may make in either an environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS); and (3) provide at least sixty days to seek consideration in individual licensing cases of any site-specific concerns relating to the remanded proceedings. (pg.3)
This is a very significant decision. The Federal Court gave the Commission a strong rebuke when it rejected NRC and industry claims that keeping waste where it is indefinitely is safe based only on a limited analysis of keeping it there for twenty years.
The waste storage issue is huge. It is crazy to think we can continue to license and operate nuclear facilities when we acknowledge we don’t have a place to put the waste. This decision is a step in the right direction, as we now have some assurance the impacts will be evaluated and the public will be allowed to participate in that process.
It is unclear what effect this will have on existing licenses. The specific decision only addressed licenses that are pending, including renewals. As for Vermont Yankee, it is likely that these decisions will affect the state-level Public Service Board review. Vermont regulators must determine if continued operation “promotes the general good of the state.” While issues of radiological health and safety can legally only be managed at the federal level, the indefinite storage of waste and the lack of solutions produce economic burdens that are important for state regulators to address. Vermont and other states cannot be stiffed into holding the bag and bearing the economic burdens of unsound nuclear waste management. this harms Vermont’s “general good.”
Additional information is available in this Vermont Digger article - Nuclear Regulatory Commission halts nuclear power licensing decisions