BUCHANAN, N.Y. – The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced a two-year deadline for a study on the environmental impacts of storing spent nuclear fuel on-site at nuclear power plants, like Indian Point. The agency's original finding that long-term nuclear waste storage would be available "when necessary" was struck down by a federal appeals court in June.
The study's 24-month deadline highlights what many estimate will be a drawn-out hearing process. Until the study is completed, all final decisions on license renewals are suspended, as is the hearing of all contentions regarding spent nuclear fuel at the Indian Point nuclear power plants.
The agency's original "waste confidence decision" was struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in June. The waste confidence decision is a generic environmental impact statement on the effects of long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel at nuclear power plants nationwide.
The court found fault with the NRC's assessment of environmental impacts should a long-term geologic repository for nuclear waste never be built. The court also found deficiencies with "the agency’s consideration of leaks and fires involving spent fuel pools," as phrased in an NRC press release.
The new environmental impact statement must address the possibility that a long-term geologic repository for nuclear waste, such as one proposed at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, may never be built.
Storage of spent nuclear fuel and spent-fuel pools are not directly considered in nuclear power plant license renewal proceedings.
The Indian Point Nuclear power plants have the most contentions, or assertions that renewing a power plant's license would violate the law, ever to come before a panel of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board. The hearings are scheduled to come before a three-member panel of the board in October in Tarrytown.
Because Indian Point's owner, Entergy Nuclear, filed its license renewal application early, the two active plants can continue operating through the license renewal proceedings.
NRC spokesperson Diane Screnci did not give a time frame for the final decision on the Indian Point license renewal, but said she expects the decision to take "a few" years. She said the Indian Point case has already far exceeded the average license renewal period of 18 to 22 months.
"Our concern is that they could take longer than 24 months," said Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River program director for Riverkeeper. "We're concerned that the NRC has a habit of dragging out these types of reviews over years." Riverkeeper is a party, with Hudson River Sloop Clearwater and New York state, to many of the contentions against the Indian Point license renewal.
NRC staff received direction from the commission Thursday to set up a means to receive public comment on the new environmental impact statement. Screnci said the agency will release more details in the future about how the public can contribute online.