The US Department of Energy (DOE) issued a Supplemental Federal Register Notice on June 5 that addresses its interpretation of what constitutes high-level radioactive waste (HLW). The DOE said the notice reflects DOE policy modifications informed by public comments it received during the 90-day public comment period after it issued the initial Federal Register Notice on October 10, 2018. DOE stated that it received roughly 360 distinct, unrepeated comments from a variety of stakeholders: members of the public, Native American tribes, members of Congress, numerous state and local governments, and one federal agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey submitted a letter on April 23 to Chairman Kristine Svinicki of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) expressing serious concerns over the storage of spent nuclear fuel at US nuclear sites, particularly at shutdown nuclear plants. Mr. Markey stated that the “NRC regulations must ensure that dry casks are not vulnerable to flooding, corrosion, and other damage, especially as climate change contributes to rising sea levels and increasingly severe and unpredictable storms.” About a month earlier, following the March 21, 2018, oversight hearing in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Mr. Markey had submitted similar questions to the NRC, including “how and whether climate change projections are integrated into the NRC’s Safety Standards and how they will be included in the NRC’s forthcoming rule governing decommissioned nuclear plants.” In his most recent letter, he requested responses to four specific questions on the issue, including: “What is the protocol for continual monitoring of spent fuel sites?”, “What time span and which climate models are used for post-Fukushima flooding reevaluation?”, and “What research has the NRC done on possible corrosion of the dry casks by exposure to salt water?”
The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on June 1 dismissed all of the claims brought by Texas seeking to compel a final decision on Yucca Mountain’s suitability as a nuclear waste repository. See Texas v. United States et al., Case No. 17-60191. The Fifth Circuit found that most of Texas’s claims were untimely, and the remaining, timely claims failed because they were outside of the court’s jurisdiction.
Texas petitioned the Fifth Circuit on March 14, 2017, arguing that several federal entities, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the US Department of Energy (DOE), had violated their obligations under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (Waste Act) by failing to accept waste by 1998; failing to complete the Yucca Mountain licensing project by 2012; and exploring “consent-based” siting as an alternative option for waste storage. Texas sought, generally, “equitable relief prohibiting [the Department of Energy] from conducting any other consent-based siting activity and ordering Respondents to finish the Yucca licensure proceedings.” After filing its petition, Texas moved for declaratory and injunctive relief, to which Nevada responded with a motion to dismiss.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently put the final nail in the coffin of a nearly 10-year proposed rulemaking effort that would have required licensees to remediate residual radioactivity resulting from licensed activities during facility operation, rather than at license termination as required by the current rules. The effort began when the commission approved the proposed decommissioning planning rule (DPR) in 2007. At that time, the commission was concerned that there could be “legacy” sites that could not complete complex remediation efforts due to inadequate financial or technical reasons, and that these sites would require the government to shoulder the burden to maintain and restrict access—and presumably complete site remediation. The proposed solution was to require remediation essentially as-you-go and thereby reduce the likelihood that any current operating facility would become a legacy site.
Since 2010, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Staff has been working on revisions to 10 C.F.R. Part 61, Licensing Requirements for Land Disposal of (Low-Level) Radioactive Waste. The original effort was intended to focus on potential impacts from anticipated disposal of large quantities of depleted uranium (DU), which is considered a “unique waste stream,” from uranium enrichment facilities. But over the course of the last seven years, the Staff’s concerns over other possible unique waste streams grew, and so did the scope of the proposed changes to Part 61.
The November 8 US presidential election results will bring new faces and policies to the energy world in January 2017 when the 115th Congress convenes and President-Elect Donald Trump and Vice President–Elect Mike Pence are sworn into office. The first order of business for the president-elect and his transition team will be to assemble their Cabinet. All indications point to the secretaries of the Departments of Energy and Interior and the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency—all Cabinet positions—as the likely nominees who will advance policies to enhance oil and gas production and support the coal industry.