The five Commissioners who direct the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have just ordered NRC Staff to carry out an expedited, two-year long Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process to revise the agency's Nuclear Waste Confidence Decision (NWCD) and Rule. Critics have charged the NWCD is a confidence game, which for decades has prevented environmental opponents of new reactor construction/operation licenses, as well as old reactor license extensions, from raising high-level radioactive waste generation/storage concerns during NRC licensing proceedings, or even in the federal courts.
But on June 8th, the U.S Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed with a coalition of state attorneys general (from NY, CT, NJ, and VT) and environmental groups (including BREDL, NRDC, Riverkeeper and SACE) that NRC's Nuclear Waste Confidence violated the National Environmental Policy Act. In effect, the court ruling, which NRC decided not to appeal, ordered the agency to carry out a decades-overdue EIS on the risks of extended (for decades, centuries, or forever) high-level radioactive waste storage at reactor sites, if a permanent repository is never opened.
From the 1987 "Screw Nevada Bill" onwards, NRC's Nuclear Waste Confidence rested on Yucca Mountain in Nevada, the only site in the U.S. under consideration to become a high-level radioactive waste repository. As Michael Keegan of Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes has put it, Yucca served for 25 years as an "illusion of a solution" for the high-level radioactive waste problem, allowing unlimited reactor operations, and thus waste generation, despite no real solution for the perhaps unsolvable problem. But in 2009-2010, President Obama and Energy Secretary Chu cancelled the Yucca Mountain dump proposal, dispelling the illusion, showing NRC's confidence to be false.
This means at least a two year delay in any finalization of NRC licensing decisions for new reactors, or license extensions at old reactors, until this EIS process and NWCD revision are completed. However, all other aspects of the NRC licensing proceedings can still be finalized and dispensed with in the meantime, taking NRC rubberstamps of reactor licenses right up to the edge, just shy of finalization. Beyond Nuclear has raised Nuke Waste Con Game contentions in opposition to two proposed new reactors (Fermi 3 in MI, and Grand Gulf 2 in LA), as well as to two old reactor license extensions (Davis-Besse, OH, and Grand Gulf 1, LA). An environmental coalition has raised similar contentions against all three dozen new reactor construction/operation, and old reactor extension, licenses across the U.S.
Disconcertingly, the NRC Commissioners' press release announcing this EIS launch also stated: "The Commission said the staff should draw on the agency’s 'long, rich history' with waste confidence determinations as well as work performed by other agencies, such as environmental assessments, technical studies and reports addressing the impacts of transportation and consolidated storage of spent fuel."
This seems to indicate that the NRC has joined with the likes of President Obama's and Energy Secretary Chu's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future in pushing for "consolidated interim storage" instead of "hardened on-site storage" of high-level radioactive waste. This should come as no surprise, as NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane served on the BRC.
Legislation has already been introduced on Capitol Hill that would launch and fund "consolidated interim storage."U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman will hold a hearing on such legislation on Sept. 12th. Witnesses will include two other members of the BRC -- one of its co-chairmen, General Brent Scrowcroft, and former NRC Chairman Richard Meserve -- as well as Pete Lyons, himself a former NRC Commissioner, and now director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Energy, mandated to promote nuclear power, and in fact host agency for the BRC. Another witness is the head of Constellation Nuclear, recently acquired by Exelon Nuclear, which would love nothing more than transferring title -- and liability -- for high-level radioactive waste to the American taxpayer, once it begins moving by road, rail, and/or barge, in unprecedented shipment numbers, toward "consolidated interim storage." The final witness is Geoff Fettus, the nuclear attorney at NRDC who helped lead the environmental coalition's victory at the DC Court of Appeals on June 8th.
Beyond Nuclear has already issued action alerts against the juggernaut revving its engines on Capitol Hill. We have also joined with the likes of Nuclear Energy Information Service, to hold a "Mountain of Radioactive Waste 70 Years High" conference Dec. 1-3 in Chicago. Kevin Kamps will speak about federal legislative threats on the high-level radioactive waste front, and what you can do about them. The grassroots environmental movement has held off the "Mobile Chernobyl" for 20 years, but this may be the most challenging fight yet in 2013. The Nuke Waste Con EIS also means we have to generate large volumes of public comments, so this conference will be a a launching pad for doing so. Please consider attending, and help spread the word!
For more information on "The Mountain of Radioactive Waste 70 Years High," see our pamphlet by that title (the pamphlet's cover is reproduced above, left), as well as the rest of Beyond Nuclear's Radioactive Waste website section.