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NRC Pushes Back Key Rulemaking Following Government Shutdown

By Douglas P. Guarino

Global Security Newswire

A train passes by the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, just north of New York City, in March 2011. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is pushing back by three weeks a key rulemaking that could determine the fate of this and other similar plants (photo by DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images). A train passes by the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, just north of New York City, in March 2011. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is pushing back by three weeks a key rulemaking that could determine the fate of this and other similar plants (photo by DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images).

WASHINGTON -- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is pushing back by three weeks the deadline for public comments on a controversial rule that could determine the fate of all nuclear power plant licensing decisions.

NRC officials announced on Monday that it now will accept comments on the so-called "waste confidence" rule through Dec. 20. The delay is a result of this month's federal government shutdown, which lasted nearly three weeks and forced the commission to postpone public meetings on the rule that it had planned to hold throughout the country.

Revision of the rule was prompted by a federal appeals court ruling last year. The court sided with the states of New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont, which argued the commission had wrongly assumed spent-reactor fuel eventually would move to a permanent waste repository, even though the Obama administration canceled the long-delayed Yucca Mountain project in Nevada.

In order for the commission to license nuclear facilities, it must make a regulatory determination that it has "confidence" the waste such facilities create will be disposed safely. In the absence of a permanent repository, the court ruled the commission must examine the potential consequences of fires in spent fuel pools -- where much of the waste currently is stored. Critics have argued the pools are vulnerable to terrorist attacks given that they are located outside reactor's containment structures, and in some cases in an elevated area they claim is more susceptible to air attacks.

NRC officials on Sept. 13 proposed a new waste confidence rule that they claim addresses the court's concerns. It already is prompting criticism, with the same group of states that prevailed in the original lawsuit arguing that the scope of a new review of the impacts of leaving waste at plant sites is not as broad as the court mandated.

Industry representatives, meanwhile, argue the new rule addresses all the issues raised by the court and in some cases goes further than necessary.

According to Monday's announcement, commission staff will host meetings on the rule Nov. 12 in Oak Brook, Ill.; Nov. 18 in Carlsbad, Calif.; Nov. 20 in San Luis Obispo, Calif.; Dec. 2 in Perrysburg, Ohio; and Dec. 4 in Minnetonka, Minn. An additional teleconference will take place on Dec. 9.

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