NRC 'Waste Confidence' meetings to focus on spent nuclear fuel

Federal regulators will hold a series of meetings this fall to discuss the fate of spent nuclear fuel that could be left behind after commercial power reactors are shut down and closed.


The 12 meetings, held by Nuclear Regulatory Commission, are part of the process of devising a “waste confidence rule” to assess the environmental impact of continued storage until the material can be sent to an underground repository.

The closest meeting to Augusta will be held Nov. 4 in Charlotte, N.C., at the Hilton Charlotte University Place, 8629 J.M. Keynes Drive. An open house begins at 6 p.m., and the formal meeting will be held from 7 to 10 p.m.

Disposal of spent nuclear fuel that continues to accumulate at the nation’s 104 operating commercial reactors has been a perennial dilemma and a source of national debate.

A planned underground repository in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain was halted by the Obama administration in 2009, and a “Blue Ribbon Commission” later recommended creating “interim” storage sites until a better solution was found.

Since then, lawsuits have been filed in hopes of resurrecting Yucca Mountain, and several locations — including Savannah River Site in South Carolina – have been mentioned as possible venues for interim storage of spent fuel.

The nation’s 70,000-ton inventory of spent fuel continues to grow by about 2,000 tons per year. Most of the radioactive waste is stored at the reactors that irradiated the fuel – either in submerged pools or in above-ground “dry cask” storage units.

Although the Yucca Mountain debate continues to play out in court, the NRC’s waste confidence meetings are a means to explore what happens if the spent fuel remains on-site after a reactor has reached the end of its useful life.

Georgia has four operating reactors — two each at Vogtle and Plant Hatch — and two new AP1000 reactors are under construction at the Vogtle site.

South Carolina has seven reactors in operation at Catawba, Oconee, V.C. Summer and Robinson plants, with two new units being built at the V.C. Summer site.

The issue of long-term storage and disposal of spent fuel is an important issue nationwide, and especially in Georgia and South Carolina, said Tom Clements, Southeastern nuclear campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth.

The solution favored by Friends of the Earth includes removing spent fuel from storage pools, and storing it on-site in protected casks, until a geologic repository can be completed.

Under the Blue Ribbon Commission’s proposals, such a repository must be sited through a “consent-based” process that requires support and coordination from state and local officials who are willing to host such a project.

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Background on NRC “Waste Confidence” process
Frequently asked questions about Waste Confidence