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“Continued Storage” – What It Means and What it Doesn’t

David McIntyre
Public Affairs Officer

UPDATE: The NRC’s final rule on the continued storage of spent nuclear fuel was published in the Federal Register on September 19, 2014, becoming effective October 20.The final Generic Environmental Impact Statement for Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel is available on the NRC website.

There has been some confusion in media reports about the purpose of the NRC’s new rule on continued storage of spent nuclear fuel. The rule, approved by the Commission August 26, will be published soon in the Federal Register and take effect 30 days later.

The continued storage rule specifically deals with the period of time after the reactor has ceased operating. The rule adopts the NRC staff’s assessments of the environmental effects of storing spent nuclear fuel at a reactor site for various periods of time following the reactor’s licensed life for operation. It adopts the conclusions of the agency’s Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) on the Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel, also approved August 26 by the Commission.

drystoragegraphic)For each new reactor, license renewal application, and storage facility specific license or renewal, the NRC performs a thorough safety review of reactor operations and spent nuclear fuel management at the site. Separately, the National Environmental Policy Act requires the NRC to perform an environmental analysis of each licensing action, which considers impacts on the surrounding environment.

The continued storage rule, when implemented, will allow the NRC to process license applications and renewals for nuclear reactors and spent fuel storage facilities without assessing the portion attributed to the environmental impacts of continued storage. This is because such impacts have now been generically assessed by the NRC in the GEIS.

The GEIS analyzed three scenarios:

  • A geologic repository for disposing of spent fuel becomes available 60 years following the licensed life of a reactor (short-term storage);
  • A repository becomes available 100 years beyond the short-term scenario, or 160 years after the licensed life of a reactor (long-term storage); and
  • A repository never is available (indefinite storage).

In evaluating the third scenario, the GEIS assumed that licensee control and regulatory oversight, or “institutional controls,” will remain in place to ensure the safety and security of the waste as long as needed.

The short-term and long-term scenarios reflect current U.S. policy that spent nuclear fuel will be disposed of in a deep geologic repository. The indefinite storage scenario is included because the Appeals Court that struck down the earlier version of the rule directed the NRC to consider the possibility a repository may never be built.

The rule is not a safety decision or licensing action for any site; it does not authorize the initial or continued operation of any nuclear power plant, and it does not authorize storage of spent fuel. The NRC licenses spent fuel storage through other means: Spent fuel pools are covered by a plant’s operating license, and dry cask storage is permitted either through a general license or a separate license, with licenses or certificates for casks issued for up to 40 years.

Media headlines proclaiming that nuclear waste will be stored in place indefinitely under this rule, or that safety controls on spent fuel storage will be weakened, do not accurately reflect the rule’s purpose or effect. Ultimate responsibility for the disposition of spent fuel lies with Congress and the Department of Energy. DOE’s most recently stated goal is to have a repository available by 2048. The NRC is committed to ensuring that spent fuel remains safe and secure, wherever it is stored or disposed.

5 responses to ““Continued Storage” – What It Means and What it Doesn’t

  1. Donna Gilmore February 16, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    At the NRC 8/5/2014 technical meeting on stress corrosion cracking, the NRC admitted these thin 1/2″ to 5/8″ thick dry storage canisters may crack prematurely and that there is no current method to inspect any of them for cracks or corrosion. They also stated once a crack initiates, it may crack through-wall in as little as 16 years. http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML1425/ML14258A081.pdf
    The NRC said they didn’t think the canister temperature would be low enough for salts to deliquescence (dissolve) from the moist ocean air, so it would take at least 30 years for a crack to initiate from the salt corrosion. However, magnesium chloride salts were found on a 2-year old Diablo Canyon canister and the temperatures on the canister were low enough for the humid salt air to dissolve salts. https://sanonofresafety.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/diablocanyonscc-2014-10-23.pdf

    However, since there is no current technology that can inspect these thin canisters, we won’t know until AFTER they leak radiation into the environment. These thin canisters are not designed for continued storage. And they cannot be repaired.

    The NRC needs to take a leadership role and raise dry storage standards given the reality of continued on-site storage that the NRC admits may need to stay at the nuclear plants indefinitely.

    The leading technology in the world is thick steel or thick ductile cast iron casks up to 20″ thick. They are not subject to cracking. They have early warning monitoring due to the independently double bolted lids. The thin canister vendors claim the metal seals on the bolted lids may fail. However, these have been used successfully for over 40 years. Seals can be replaced and due to the double bolted lid system, they provide indirect early warning of helium leaks. They have redundancy, so if one seal or lid fails, there is another.

    Once a thin canister cracks through-wall, radiation will be released into the environment and there is no plan in place to deal with this. The concrete overpacks/casks have air vents for convection cooling, so they will not protect from cesium and other radionuclides.

    To make matters worse, the NRC allows spent fuel pools to be destroyed after decommissioning. This is the only current method to reload fuel into another canister on-site.

    The NRC needs to raise dry storage standards. Instead, they are putting us all at risk. Please read and share this handout.

    Learn more at SanOnofreSafety.org

  2. RKWilson September 8, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    You need to recall Harry Reid and get yucca mountain working, it is a lot better than storing it around the country near flooding rivers, terrorists, and tsunamis. Good grief, what are you thinking????

  3. CaptD September 6, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    Continuous $torage is a more realistic name, since this will insure that any 60 year nuclear power plant (NPP) will become a 100 year profitable installation for whoever can get them built while at the same time all the expenses (and there will be plenty of billion dollar expenses if San Onofre NNP is any example) will be paid by the Utility ratepayers.

    Since Solar Development is just getting started, the above ratepayers are going to be really unhappy in the future, since the price of Solar will continue to drop, which will make NPP’s ever more expensive, and that is if everything goes according to plan, which we all know is not always the case.

    Here is just an example of the above, while Big Utility still has political control over ratepayers:

    Japan/Westinghouse, Blue Castle sign two-unit AP1000 deal – See more at:

  4. dick0645 September 4, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    Get real! The only storage will be Forever On-site Storage and you know it. AKA how to make every US nuclear power plant site a juicer and juicer terrorist target. There are other countries you know who are storing their high level waste responsibly in safe permanent repositories. Thanks for compromising our national security and our public safety.!

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