Plant closer to re­li­cens­ing after two ac­tions

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - LOCAL - By EVAN BRANDT

LIM­ER­ICK— Two ma­jor de­ci­sions by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment last week have moved the nu­clear power plant here closer to ex­tend­ing its op­er­at­ing li­cense for another 20 years.

On Aug. 26, the Nu­clear Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion an­nounced the is­su­ing of a fi­nal rule gov­ern­ing the on-site stor­age of spent nu­clear fuel.

The rule marked the end of a two-year process made nec­es­sary by a June, 2012 U.S. Court of Ap­peals rul­ing which or­dered the NRC to con­sider sev­eral po­ten­tial de­vel­op­ments that could re­sult from the con­tin­ued and ex­panded stor­age of spent nu­clear fuel on-site at nu­clear plants.

Among those new de­vel­op­ments is the pos­si­bil­ity that the U.S. may never build a per­ma­nent stor­age fa­cil­ity for spent fuel as had been planned for Ne­vada’s Yucca Moun­tain; or the in­creased pos­si­bil­ity of “fuel pool fires” — things the orig­i­nal rule, called “waste con­fi­dence,” had never en­vi­sioned.

As a re­sult of the 2012 court rul­ing, the NRC sus­pended all fi­nal de­ci­sions on all nu­clear plant re­li­cens­ing un­til the new rule was com­pleted.

That sus­pen­sion ap­plied to Lim­er­ick’s re­li­cens­ing ap­pli­ca­tion, which was filed on June 22, 2011.

The Aug. 26 an­nounce­ment of the new spent fuel rule also lifted the sus­pen­sion of re­li­cens­ing de­ci­sions.

“TheNu­cle­arReg­u­la­to­ryCom­mis­sion’s (NRC) ap­proval of the Con­tin­ued Stor­age Rule is another step for­ward in the li­cense re­newal process for Lim­er­ick Gen­er­at­ing Sta­tion,” Dana Melia, com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager for the plant, wrote in an email.

Two days later, on Aug. 28, the “fi­nal en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact state­ment” for the plant’s re­li­cens­ing ap­pli­ca­tion was is­sued and posted on­line, ac­cord­ing to NRC spokesman Neil Shee­han,

The is­su­ing of this doc­u­ment, which ad­dresses is­sues raised dur­ing a 2011 pub­lic hear­ing held in Sun­ny­brook Ball­room and dur­ing a pub­lic com­ment pe­riod, is a cru­cial step for­ward for Ex­elon Nu­clear in its ap­pli­ca­tion to ex­tend the li­cense of the 28-year-old Lim­er­ick Gen­er­at­ing Sta­tion.

Cur­rently the op­er­at­ing li­censes on the plant’s two nu­clear re­ac­tors ex­pire Oct. 26, 2024 for Unit 1, and June 22, 2029 for Unit 2.

“The fi­nal step on the part of the NRC re­gard­ing the Lim­er­ick li­cense re­newal ap­pli­ca­tion will be a decision by the Di­rec­tor of the Of­fice of Nu­clear Re­ac­tor Reg­u­la­tion on whether to ap­prove or dis­ap­prove it,” Shee­han wrote in an email re­sponse to an in­quiry.

How­ever, no date for that decision has been set.

Its worth not­ing that, to date, the NRC has never de­nied a re­li­cens­ing ap­pli­ca­tion for any op­er­at­ing nu­clear plant in the United States.

One re­main­ing com­pli­ca­tion is a le­gal chal­lenge from the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil.

In 2011, the NRDC suc­cess­fully pe­ti­tioned the Atomic Safety and Li­cens­ing Board to in­ter­vene in Lim­er­ick’s re­li­cens­ing ap­pli­ca­tion, ar­gu­ing that new in­for­ma­tion and tech­niques for mit­i­gat­ing se­vere ac­ci­dents should be con­sid­ered to keep in com­pli­ance with the Na­tional En­vi­ron­men­tal Pol­icy Act.

Last Novem­ber, the NRC re­jected NRDC’s con­tention, a re­jec­tion the NRDC has sub­se­quently pe­ti­tioned the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the D.C. Cir­cuit to re­view.

It is un­clear what, if any, af­fect that re­view will have on the re­li­cens­ing decision.

De­spite re­ject­ing NRDC’s con­tention, the NRC did in­struct its staff to ad­dress many of the con­cerns raised in the le­gal ac­tion in the fi­nal en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact state­ment, Shee­han wrote.

Shee­han said the staff con­cluded in that doc­u­ment that “the ad­verse en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts of li­cense re­newal for (Lim­er­ick Gen­er­at­ing Sta­tion) are not great enough to deny the op­tion of li­cense re­newal for en­ergy plan­ning de­ci­sion­mak­ers.”

“Lim­er­ick’s li­cense re­newal ap­pli­ca­tion is strong and on track. As part of the li­cense re­newal process, the NRC has per­formed a com­pre­hen­sive eval­u­a­tion of the thou­sands of ac­tions and equip­ment up­grades Ex­elon has per­formed at Lim­er­ick to en­sure con­tin­ued safe and re­li­able op­er­a­tions through the ex­tended pe­riod,” Melia wrote. “We look for­ward to the NRCs fi­nal decision on Lim­er­ick’s li­cense re­newal ap­pli­ca­tion.”

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