NRC affirms longer storage of spent fuel at reactor sites

Nuclear radioactive waste can be safely stored for at least 60 years beyond the licensed life of any reactor, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission decided Wednesday.

The NRC revised its "Waste Confidence" regulation, increasing the number of years spent fuel can be stored at reactor sites upward by 30 years.

The agency also asserted that "sufficient repository capacity will be available when necessary, but emphasized that the decision does "not signal an endorsement of indefinite storage of spent fuel at reactor sites" while regulators consider the fate of Yucca Mountain in Nevada, a proposed national repository for the waste.

"Today the commission affirmed our confidence that spent nuclear fuel can be stored safely and securely without significant environmental impacts for at least 60 years after operation at any nuclear power plant," said NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko in a statement.

Commissioners also directed the NRC staff to conduct additional analysis for longer-term storage to ensure that the panel remains "fully informed" by current circumstances and scientific knowledge relating to spent fuel storage and disposal.

In Connecticut, spent fuel remains onsite at the decommissioned Connecticut Yankee plant in Haddam Neck as well as at Millstone Power Station in Waterford, where one closed reactor, two operating reactors and a dry cask storage facility are located.

"The government has an obligation to the American people to accept high level commercial nuclear waste permanently," said Ken Holt, spokesman for Millstone owner Dominion. "We do store our fuel safely and we are regularly inspected and monitored. That's how we operate."

Yucca Mountain, once considered the final destination for spent nuclear fuel, has been withdrawn as an option by the U.S. Department of Energy - a move countered by the NRC's quasi-judicial arm, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board.

As President Barack Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future reviews the country's alternatives for dealing with high-level radioactive waste, Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell this week joined other U.S. political leaders in asking Energy Secretary Stephan Chu and the state's Congressional delegation to stop the dismantling of Yucca Mountain until the NRC acts on the move to withdraw the national repository from consideration.

Tony Pietrangelo, chief nuclear officer at the Nuclear Energy Institute, which advocates for the nuclear industry, said in a statement that the NRC revision explicitly endorses safe and secure management of spent nuclear fuel at 104 reactors across the country.

"With this rule, the commission has definitively answered the question: can licensing of new plants, and the relicensing of existing reactors, go forward with the present fuel management program that industry executes under exacting NRC regulations?" he said. "That answer is yes."

p.daddona@theday.com

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