BUCHANAN, N.Y. — Challenges to the way spent nuclear fuel is stored at Indian Point Nuclear Power Plants will be temporarily suspended while other contentions against the plants’ 20-year license extension are parsed out in evidentiary hearings beginning in October.
The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB), the adjudicatory arm of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), announced the suspension of hearing spent fuel-related contentions after a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision struck down the NRC’s spent-fuel storage rule, known as the Waste Confidence Rule, in June.
The Court of Appeals said the Waste Confidence Rule did not satisfy legal requirements for review of health, safety and environmental impacts when it ruled nuclear power plants could store spent nuclear fuel on-site for 60 years after the plants’ closure, and said a geologic repository would be available “when necessary,” despite the fact that no such repository is being actively considered.
The storage of spent nuclear fuel is not normally considered in license renewal proceedings.
“We look at spent fuel pools, dry cask storage in the course of our regular inspections,” said Neil Sheehan, spokesperson for the NRC.
Despite the fact that contentions hearing spent-fuel storage are being temporarily suspended, the ASLB’s announcement prompted reaction from environmental organizations challenging the plants’ 20-year license extension.
“It’s a long-overdue step forward for the NRC to have finally acknowledged the egregious spent-fuel situation and to stop excluding it from relicensing decisions,” said Manna Jo Greene, environmental director at Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. Clearwater is a joint petitioner with the New York State Attorney General and Riverkeeper to a contention filed July 9.
Acceptance of a similar contention by Clearwater involving storage of spent nuclear fuel was denied by the NRC in 2009. The agency cited that it had not yet completed a review of its waste confidence decision.
In Tuesday's announcement of the suspension of final decision of license renewals, the NRC wrote: “Because of the recent court ruling striking down our waste confidence provisions, we are now considering all available options for resolving the waste confidence issue.”
“We have not yet determined a course of action,” the NRC continued.
“We have the pools, which we've maintained, and we've begun moving fuel from the pools to casks where they are stored on-site,” said Entergy spokesperson Jim Steets. Spent fuel will be moved into the pools during upcoming refueling of Indian Point Unit 3. One-third of each plant’s 15-foot nuclear fuel assemblies are replaced every 18-24 months, continuously creating tons of new spent nuclear fuel.
“We would expect to be able to continue safely storing spent fuel pools until the federal government meets its obligations to take it,” said Steets.