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

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 –, 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

Testing No Cause For Concern at San Onofre

There has been some concern about testing being conducted at San Onore Nuclear Generating Station’s Unit 2 reactor, which is currently shut down. On Monday, as part of a plan by Southern California Edison (SCE) to test the plant’s auxiliary feedwater pumps, as well as other equipment, the plant was heated to normal operating temperature of about 535 degrees and normal operating pressure of 2,200 psi. Heat is being supplied to the system by running reactor coolant pumps, not the reactor. The heat forms steam in the steam generators, which is needed to test this equipment. During this testing, the reactor remains shutdown.

The licensee is required to perform this testing at the conclusion of a refueling outage. They expect to remain in this testing condition (Mode 3) for about one week, and then return the plant to cold shutdown conditions (Mode 5). During the extended shutdown of Unit 2, Southern California Edison plugged degraded tubes. As a preventive measure, several hundred additional tubes were plugged and removed from service because of their physical location at the top of the steam generators. This was to prevent further tube to tube wear during potential future operations.

On Sunday, October 21, 2012, craftsmen at the plant identified a small hydrogen leak coming from the hydrogen supply piping system on Unit 2. The craftsmen were checking for leaks by spraying soapy water on piping joints. This is a routine leakage check. A minute amount of bubbles were observed, indicating that a very low amount of hydrogen was leaking at a mechanical piping joint. The piping joint was tightened and the leak was stopped.

Hydrogen is used at electric power plants (not just nuclear power plants) for main electrical generator cooling. At San Onofre, the affected hydrogen piping that transports hydrogen to the generator on the non-nuclear side of the plant is outdoors near the turbine building. The small amount of hydrogen leaking from the mechanical joint did not pose a threat to the public or workers on site. Since it was outdoors, a significant amount of hydrogen at combustible concentrations could not accumulate in one area.

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV
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