U.S. NRC Blog

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Introducing the NRC’s Waste Confidence Directorate

The NRC staff is already hard at work on an environmental impact statement to support an update to the Commission’s waste confidence rule, which evaluates the storage of spent nuclear fuel after the expiration of a nuclear reactor’s license.

This project is part of the NRC’s response to last June’s U.S. Appeals Court ruling striking down the agency’s generic finding that spent fuel can be stored safely for several decades after a plant’s license expires. The court held the NRC should have examined the environmental effects of never having a repository, as well as the effects of spent fuel pool fires and leaks. The Commission then decided that the agency would not issue licenses dependent on waste confidence until the court’s remand is addressed.

As director of the new Waste Confidence Directorate, established to meet the 24-month deadline the Commission set for this ambitious and important project, I plan to give you occasional updates on our progress here on the NRC blog. These updates will be part of an extensive and innovative public outreach effort.

I am happy to report that the Waste Confidence Directorate is now fully staffed. We are the newest part of the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards, which has oversight and licensing responsibilities for spent fuel storage and disposal. But we have drawn our staff from offices throughout the agency in order to utilize a variety of expertise and knowledge. I come to the Directorate from the Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management Programs, which handles environmental reviews and rulemaking for fuel cycle facilities, decommissioning and waste. My deputy, Carrie Safford, comes from our Office of the General Counsel to provide legal expertise.

We will oversee two branches, with a total staff of 20 employees. The Environmental Review Branch includes many talented and experienced environmental experts with deep knowledge of the National Environmental Policy Act and its requirements. They will work with contractors from the Center for Nuclear Waste Regulatory Analyses in San Antonio, Texas, to develop the environmental impact statement.

Our Communications Branch will lead our public outreach effort. The NRC is committed to engaging the public to the maximum extent possible in this important project, and we will keep you informed every step of the way. We have already set up a dedicated Waste Confidence page on the NRC website (one click from our home page under “Spotlight”), where you will be able to find documents, meeting notices and transcripts, and regular updates on our work. You can also reach us directly by email at WCOutreach@nrc.gov.

This week, we announced in the Federal Register our “scoping” effort for the environmental review. We want the public’s suggestions on what we should examine in the environmental impact statement. To that end, we will hold two public meetings here at NRC headquarters on Wednesday, November 14 to explain the project and hear public comments. Both of these meetings will be webcast, with moderated teleconference lines, so people who cannot come to Rockville can still participate. The second meeting will be held late in the evening to accommodate people in other time zones. We will also conduct two webinars in early December to explain the review process and receive public comments. Finally, you may comment online through the government’s rulemaking website – regulations.gov, under docket number NRC-2012-0246. The comment period ends Wednesday, January 2, 2013.

With our dedicated Waste Confidence Web page, webcasts, webinars, this blog and the NRC’s Twitter feed and YouTube channel, we intend to keep you informed and engaged as we tackle this important project. We are confident that we can meet the September 2014 deadline for the environmental impact statement and waste confidence rule, and we look forward to working with you, our stakeholders, along the way.

Keith I. McConnell
Director, Waste Confidence Directorate
Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards

12 responses to “Introducing the NRC’s Waste Confidence Directorate

  1. megacenter.vn November 3, 2012 at 2:34 am

    What on earth is a “directorate?” Sounds vaguely Stalinist. Step one on talking to the public: speak English.

  2. atomikrabbit October 27, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    Keith – good luck with your efforts. I hope the agency will continue to look only at the science and engineering facts, and resist being deflected by the politicians, activists, and fearmongerers who will swarm on this issue.

  3. Marc Hoellerer October 27, 2012 at 9:52 am

    Nuclear waste is one of the greatest problems today. Does anyone know where to store it safe? Not as far as I know, in Germany we are still looking for a place.

    • CaptD November 1, 2012 at 12:52 pm

      Please read my comment below. Germany, as a true Leader in our conversion to a GREEN Planet, can also help lead in finding solutions to our nuclear waste “problems”… THX

  4. CaptD October 26, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    I’ve already suggested that the NRC offer a Million Dollar Prize for the best way to “solve” the nuclear waste storage problem” for the next 50 years, so please consider this idea as my “low cost” solution to America’s “long term” radioactive waste storage problem:

    Make use of our Military Testing Bases and or our MOA’s (Military Operation Area’s) out west, which are really huge tracts of land (think many tens of thousands of acres) used ONLY by the military and already secured by them 24/7!

    Placing these very large (heavy) concrete casks in a poke-a-dot pattern will allow for at least 50 to 100 years of storage, safe from everything except a War, (in which case every reactor is just as vulnerable) and then revisit the storage problem then; at which time, probably a future solution will allow for an even better lower cost “final solution”…

    Because these casks would be very large and all look alike nobody would know what was in any one of them, which would be yet another level of security for the casks containing even higher levels of nuclear waste! An ideal outside coating for these casks would be similar to the spray-on “bed liner” used for pickup trucks that not only prevents rusting and or damage for the life of the vehicle but would also seal the casks to prevent leakage of any kind!

    Hopefully these casts would be similar in size to a large shipping container so that existing material handling equipment could be used to load, unload and or move them about without “inventing” a mega hauler vehicle. By keeping the “footprint” of these casks similar to a large 40 foot container, the stacking and or placement of them might also be semi or fully automated which would not only save money but again keep the exact location of any specific cask secret! The monitoring of these casks 24/7/365 could even be done via satellite since these casks are similar in size to rocket launchers which are easily seen from space.

    In another 50 to 100 years, storage technology will be such that, yet another lower cost solution for all this waste will be found, and then it can be considered verses continuing to using the above storage plan… Perhaps sometime In the future, a safe low cost solution like lifting it all into space via a space elevator* and then shoving it in an orbit that will send it into the SUN for final recycling will present itself…

    BTW: Area 51 (which does not even exist officially) contains huge tracts of land that has already been used as a nuclear testing site (and is still contaminated and is now off limits to all but a few forever) would allow all this material to effectively “disappear”…

    * The Space Elevator Project (LiftPort) http://liftport.com/ is something that the NRC should help fund ASAP, because it represents the best way to actually eliminate storing nuclear waste on Earth!

  5. Gary Headrick October 26, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    How can we find out how much nuclear waste is stored at San Onofre and what percentage is in dry cask storage. We’d also like to know how much is in pools that could be transferred to dry cask storage immediately (before the big earthquake we all know is eminent)?

    • Anonymous October 26, 2012 at 3:47 pm

      It seems to be yet another 9/11 issue. However, Bob Alverez and Tom Clements have seen some info shared by someone at DOE that was later told not to share it. They may be able to share ball park #s. Bob told me that the Duke dry/pool ration was about 1/3, off the top of his head….. Suzanne

    • CaptD October 26, 2012 at 4:30 pm

      I’d also suggest finding out:
      1. What happened to the MOX fuel used at San Onofre?
      2. Where it is currently stored and it condition?
      3. What was the effect it had on the Steam Generators it was used in?
      (i.e. was it one of the factors that caused premature wear and or corrosion
      that lead to the current RSG debacle because the previous SG did not last
      as long as they were predicted to?
      4. Was this testing made public and if so, where can one find it on the NRC site?
      5. Why can’t San Onofre radioactive waste be stored along side the other San Onofre
      Radioactive SG’s being stored (somewhere) in Utah?

    • Anonymous October 26, 2012 at 6:33 pm

      What on earth is a “directorate?” Sounds vaguely Stalinist. Step one on talking to the public: speak English.

    • Moderator November 1, 2012 at 12:29 pm

      About half of the spent fuel in both the Unit 2 and Unit 3 spent fuel pools is old enough, hence cool enough, to be moved to dry cask storage. However, licensees are not required to provide us specifics since both forms of storage are considered safe and the decision about which method to use is up to the site. According to NRC regulations, all licensees must maintain storage systems to keep the fuel safe (cooled and secure), and licensees must maintain the ability to move all of the fuel in the reactor into the spent fuel pool. Currently, SONGS has that capability.

      • CaptD November 1, 2012 at 12:48 pm

        Moderator: It seems silly for the NRC NOT to require that licensee’s submit monthly reports of the status of all their nuclear waste so that the public can assured that it is being stored properly; the only reason for not requiring this is so the NRC can have deniability about exactly is stored where!

        BTW: If this is a National Security Issue, then some other Gov’t. entity should take responsibility for maintaining this most important “LISTING”.

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