Northeast states fight extended nuclear waste storage

State attorneys general from New York, Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts have filed a petition with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) seeking tighter rules for extended on-site storage of spent fuel at atomic power plants.

The petition, announced May 23 by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, seeks to have NRC “fix critical omissions in the proposed scope of its review of the hazards of allowing the long-term storage of nuclear waste to linger in communities that are home to nuclear power plants.”

The petition is an outgrowth of the so-called “waste confidence” ruling in 2012, which essentially held NRC needed to do additional analysis before it could approve spent nuclear to remain stored at reactor sites possibly for many years after power generation ceases.

The decision was handed down last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

This landmark decision means that NRC cannot license or re-license any nuclear power plant, including the Entergy (NYSE:ETR) Indian Point facilities, until it fully examines the dangers and consequences of long-term, on-site storage of nuclear waste.

NRC has stated that it will address “generic” waste storage issues in this environmental impact statement, but has not made clear how or whether it will allow plant-specific issues to be raised in licensing or relicensing proceedings. To implement that decision, the NRC needs to modify its current regulations, the states assert.

Earlier this year, Vermont, joined by New York and Massachusetts, filed comments with the NRC explaining why the NRC’s proposed environmental analysis fails to comply with the D.C. Circuit’s ruling.

“Our comments made clear that the D.C. Circuit’s ruling required the NRC to address the possibility that spent nuclear fuel might stay at reactor sites for years, decades, or even centuries,” Attorney General William Sorrell said. In a Scoping Decision issued after those comments, the NRC’s regulatory staff disagreed with the States and instead took the position that the NRC can engage in a much more limited environmental review.

Among other things, the Northeast states say that NRC’s analysis fails to fully address the alternative of requiring dry cask storage of spent fuel rather than continued use of spent fuel pools for spent fuel that is more than five years old.

Temporary on-site storage of spent fuel on-site for years, or potentially decades, has become a growing issue of concern with the Department of Energy’s failure to develop a national nuclear waste repository, such as the long-debated projected proposed for Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.