US NRC order could delay decision on new nuclear reactor licensing
Washington (Platts)--8Aug2012/302 pm EDT/1902 GMT
Approval of Duke Energy's plans to build two nuclear reactors in Florida
could be delayed by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission's decision Tuesday
to put on hold decisions on granting licenses to build new reactors pending
resolution of a court decision overturning NRC's waste confidence rule.
NRC has said it expects to finish the safety review of combined
construction permit-operating licenses, or COLs, for two AP1000 units at the
utility's Levy County, Florida, site by October.
The agency was targeting February for a mandatory hearing on the
application and said it would issue final licensing decisions within four
months of completing mandatory hearings.
The NRC commissioners, in an order issued Tuesday, said the agency will
defer final decisions on licensing new reactors, or issuing 20-year license
renewals for existing ones, until it decides how to comply with a June 8
decision by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that
struck down NRC's updated waste confidence rule.
The court ruled that the NRC is required to conduct an environmental
assessment of the rule and "failed to properly examine future dangers and key
consequences" of storing used commercial nuclear fuel at power reactor sites
The updated rule that NRC issued in 2010 says the agency has reasonable
assurance utility spent fuel can be safely stored for at least 60 years after
a power reactor's operating license expires and then disposed of. Waste
confidence is central to the agency's ability to license new reactors and
renew the operating licenses of existing reactors.
The order, issued in response to a petition by 24 anti-nuclear groups and
activists filed with the agency June 18, said NRC is "now considering all
available options for resolving the waste confidence issue." It said this
could include issuing a revised generic regulation, a regulation that would
assess waste nuclear fuel on a site-by site basis, or a combination of both.
Duke is confident NRC will act "in a timely manner" to address the
issues raised by the court decision and resume final licensing decisions,
spokeswoman Rita Sipe said in an email late Tuesday. "We are encouraged that
the NRC will continue to move forward with all licensing reviews and
proceedings while it considers options for resolving the waste confidence
issues raised by the court's remand," Sipe said.
David McIntyre, an NRC spokesman, said Tuesday in an email that he could
not estimate when NRC would promulgate a revised waste confidence rule, but
said: "This is a matter of high urgency, so it is something that will be done
sooner, rather than later."
Duke's application for COLs for two AP1000 reactors at its William
States Lee site in South Carolina is scheduled for a mandatory hearing in
March, according to NRC's website. An application for two new units at the
Shearon Harris site in North Carolina should have its safety review complete
by September 2013, NRC said. It has not set a target for a final decision on
either of these applications.
Applications for COLs for 20 new reactors and license renewals for 13
units have been filed with NRC, according to Tuesday's order. An additional
14 license renewal applications are expected to be filed between October and
early 2017, according to NRC's website.
The Tennessee Valley Authority is reviewing the NRC order for its
possible impact on the Watts Bar-2 completion project now under way,
spokesman Michael Bradley said in an interview Tuesday.
TVA is completing Watts Bar-2, in Tennessee, on which work had stopped
in the 1980s. The federal power producer has said it plans to restart
commercial operations of the unit around December 2015. NRC has not said when
it plans to complete its review of the application for an operating license
for the unit.
Ellen Ginsberg, the Nuclear Energy Institute's general counsel, said in
an email Tuesday: "Given the circumstances created by the court's decision,
the agency reasonably permitted licensing reviews and adjudications to
proceed while it addresses the remand. The commission appropriately used its
inherent supervisory authority to direct licensing boards to hold related
contentions in abeyance pending further agency action."
Edward Kee, a vice president with NERA Economic Consulting, which does
work on nuclear economics issues for US and non-US companies, said in an
email Tuesday: "I see this order as a routine NRC housekeeping matter to
reflect the court's decision. I expect that any delays in COL or license
renewal decisions as a result of this order will have a minimal impact on the
--Jim Ostroff, firstname.lastname@example.org
--William Freebairn, email@example.com
--Edited by Keiron Greenhalgh, firstname.lastname@example.org