Nuclear Industry Unfazed by NRC Ruling
A Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) spokesperson said Aug. 9 that the industry is not too worried about a recent Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) ruling that suspends certain license proceedings until NRC better analyzes on-site storage of spent nuclear fuel at existing power plants.
The ruling is not an immediate concern and should not have an impact on construction work already taking place on new nuclear projects in Georgia and South Carolina, said NEI spokesperson Steve Kerekes.
A group led by Southern (NYSE: SO) subsidiary Georgia Power is developing two new units at the Vogtle complex and an effort led by SCANA (NYSE: SCG) subsidiary South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G) is developing new units at the Summer nuclear complex. Both those projects are still years away from completion, Kerekes noted.
NRC was premature in approving decades-long on-site storage
In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that NRC had violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in issuing its 2010 update to the Waste Confidence Decision and accompanying Temporary Storage Rule.
The court effectively ruled that NRC has not done enough groundwork to conclude that spent nuclear fuel can be stored on-site at power plants for up to six decades after the plant ceases operation.
NRC acted Aug. 7 to effectively put a hold on at least 19 final reactor licensing decisions – nine construction & operating licenses (COLS), eight license renewals, one operating license, and one early site permit, said the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, in a statement it released with other anti-nuclear groups.
The NRC action was sought in a June 18, petition filed by 24 groups urging the NRC to respond to the court ruling by freezing final licensing decisions until it has completed a rulemaking action on the environmental impacts of storing spent fuel for decades.
Industry said ruling not a big issue in short term
“The NRC’s announcement has no impact on the operation of our existing nuclear plant or our progress to build and operate two additional units at V.C. Summer Station,” a SCANA spokesperson said Aug. 9. The NRC issued licenses to build and operate the new units on March 30. SCANA hopes to bring the new units in Fairfield County, S..C, online in 2017 and 2018 respectively, the spokeswoman said.
As for Southern’s new Vogtle units in Georgia, Unit 3 is expected to begin operation in 2016 and Unit 4 in 2017.
Given the drawn-out nature of NRC’s license reviews, the ruling does not pose a big concern in the short term, industry officials told Energy Central's GenerationHub.
Something to watch will be whether NRC elects to go with an environmental assessment (EA) or a more involved environmental impact statement (EIS) to address the issue. NRC could also use some type of hybrid approach, sources noted.
Nevertheless, NRC said Aug. 7 that it must address the court’s concerns before it can move forward.
“Because of the recent court ruling striking down our current waste confidence provisions, we are now considering all available options for resolving the waste confidence issue, which could include generic or site-specific NRC actions, or some combination of both,” the NRC wrote in its order.
“We have not yet determined a course of action. But, in recognition of our duties under the law, we will not issue licenses dependent upon the Waste Confidence Decision or the Temporary Storage Rule until the court’s remand is appropriately addressed. This determination extends just to final license issuance; all licensing reviews and proceedings should continue to move forward,” the NRC said in its Aug. 7 ruling.
The order was one of the first major actions by NRC since Allison Macfarlane took joined the commission and replaced Greg Jaczko as its chair.
Wayne Barber is chief analyst power generation for Generation Hub, an Energy Central unit.