The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently issued Revision 3 of Regulatory Guide (RG) 4.2, “Preparation of Environmental Reports for Nuclear Power Stations.” Revision 3 provides a long-overdue update to RG 4.2, which was last revised in 1976. Given the numerous changes to applicable environmental statutes, regulations, and executive orders since that time, the NRC issued two interim staff guidance (ISG) documents in 2014. Revision 3 incorporates guidance from those ISGs insofar as it relates to information that an applicant must include in its Environmental Report (ER) for any requested permit, license, or other authorization to site, construct, and/or operate a new nuclear power plant. Prior to issuing RG 4.2, Revision 3, the Staff published a draft version thereof in February 2017 and responded to comments received on the draft.
The guidance in Part C of RG 4.2, Revision 3 applies to ERs for large light-water reactor combined license (COL) applications not referencing an early site permit (ESP). Appendix A provides supplemental guidance for the development of ERs for other authorizations and licenses issued by the NRC under 10 CFR Parts 50 and 52, such as ESPs, COLs referencing an ESP, construction permits, operating licenses, limited work authorizations, standard design certifications, and manufacturing licenses. Appendix B describes the requirements for the NRC to consult with other Federal agencies under other environmental statutes (e.g., the Endangered Species Act). Appendix C provides additional guidance on the preparation of ERs for applications for small modular reactors and non-light water reactors.
Some of the noteworthy changes in Revision 3 of RG 4.2 relate to the following topics:
- Limited Work Authorizations (LWA). Revision 3 refers to those activities defined by the LWA rule as not constituting “construction” as “preconstruction” activities (e.g., site preparation activities), which may be performed without an NRC license and are not part of the NRC’s licensing action. Revision 3 directs applicants to separate the impacts of preconstruction and construction activities, so that they can separately describe preconstruction-related impacts and evaluate them as part of the cumulative impacts related to the proposed action.
- Storage of Spent Fuel. Revision 3 directs applicants to be cognizant of the generically applicable analyses contained in NUREG-2157, “Generic Environmental Impact Statement for Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel” (2014), and to provide a discussion of their plans for management of spent fuel during the licensed life of the plant.
- Need for Power. According to Revision 3, an applicant’s need-for-power analysis should: (1) be limited to the discussion of the supply and demand for electricity; (2) provide confidence that the power generated by the proposed project will be produced and consumed in a manner consistent with the stated purpose and need of the project; and (3) provide the basis for the consideration of baseload alternative generating technologies for the proposed project. It further clarifies that discussion of ancillary benefits (e.g., reduced greenhouse gas emissions, fuel diversity, or grid stability) should be addressed in the benefit-cost section of the Environmental Report.
- Climate Change. Revision 3 states that applicants should describe how the baseline environment might change as a result of climate change, including discussion of the potential impacts of climate change in the vicinity of the site for over the period encompassing the licensing action and impacts on meteorological parameters such as temperature, precipitation, and the frequency and severity of storms. It directs applicants to consider potential climate change impacts as part of the cumulative impacts discussion for the proposed site and alternative sites.
- Cumulative Impacts. Revision 3 instructs applicants to describe any past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions in the geographic area of interest surrounding the site that would affect the same resources affected by building and operation of the proposed project. Because cumulative impacts are additive, the analysis should focus on resources that are potentially affected by past, present, and reasonably foreseeable actions as well as by building and operations activities at the proposed nuclear plant during the project’s expected timeframe.
- Environmental Justice (EJ). Revision 3 states that applicants should identify any potential pathways that could result in disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects to EJ populations, with a focus on subsistence practices and communities with unique characteristics (including any potential American Indian tribal linkages to traditional or culturally important resources). Applicants should consider the potential for disproportionately high and adverse impacts to EJ populations for each socioeconomic impact area, and identify potential mitigation actions or other mitigating factors that would reduce such impacts.
Companies that are developing or planning to develop new reactor license applications should carefully review the updated guidance in Revision 3 of RG 4.2 to ensure submission of a complete Environmental Report.