NRC Staff Sets Course to Continue Licensing Reviews After Waste Confidence

The NRC staff will proceed with issuance of environmental impact statements (EISs) pending the agency’s generic rulemaking on waste confidence, it told the Commission in a recently-released paper. The staff’s paper responds to the Commission’s direction that licensing reviews and proceedings continue while the agency conducts a generic rulemaking to address the D.C. Circuit’s remand of the waste confidence update. Although the Commission ordered the staff to continue with licensing reviews, it committed not to issue final licenses until the waste confidence remand is resolved.

The staff will develop explanatory text for EISs acknowledging the ongoing rulemaking and reiterating that no final licenses will be issued before the remanded waste confidence issues have been resolved. The explanatory text will be included in EISs for combined license (COL), early site permit, operating license, and license renewal applications. If necessary, EISs will be revised or supplemented to address any issues unresolved by the rulemaking. For upcoming uncontested or “mandatory” hearings in which an EIS has already been issued (e.g., Levy County), the staff will use testimony in the hearing to address waste confidence issues. And for new EISs on COL applications, the staff plans to make “conditional” findings regarding the environmental effects of spent nuclear fuel storage and disposal. These findings are necessary to conduct the ultimate balancing test required by the NRC’s National Environmental Policy Act implementing regulations, and will enable the staff to issue the EIS needed to initiate the hearing process.

It appears that the NRC staff has a sensible plan for satisfying the Commission’s direction to continue with licensing reviews and proceedings pending the waste confidence rulemaking. Continued issuance of EISs is significant; it will ensure that contested adjudicatory hearings on environmental contentions can proceed in parallel with the rulemaking, rather than being put on hold for several years until the rulemaking is completed. Although some final license decisions will be delayed from their current schedules, all other milestones in the licensing process should proceed apace.