A final rule governing continued storage of used nuclear fuel is expected from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) next month.

NRC staff on July 24 submitted a draft final rule to replace the court-vacated 2010 “Waste Confidence Decision” and a supporting generic environmental impact statement to the commission for approval.

The D.C. Circuit in June 2012 vacated the NRC’s Waste Confidence Decision, finding that an NRC ruling that said spent nuclear fuel from the nation’s power plants could be stored as long as 60 years after a plant’s operating license expires violated the National Environmental Policy Act. The court also ordered the agency to consider the potential environmental consequences of the federal government’s failure to build a permanent repository and required it to analyze the environmental impacts of potential leaks and fires in used fuel storage pools.

Following that decision, the NRC put on hold all final reactor licensing decisions until a new rule is finalized. Then, the federal body in September 2013 issued a proposed rule concluding that storage in used fuel pools is feasible for 60 years after the licensed life of a reactor and in dry casks for indefinite periods, assuming that dry storage systems can be replaced every 100 years.

The draft final rule for which NRC staff is now seeking approval for publication in the Federal Register has been renamed: “Environmental Impacts of Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel Beyond the Licensed Life for Operation of a Reactor.”

It would ensure that environmental assessments for future reactor and spent-fuel-storage facility licensing actions will consider the environmental impacts of continued storage, if the impacts of continued storage of spent fuel are relevant to the proposed action, the NRC said.

“The NRC has appropriately and thoroughly analyzed the three issues raised by the court,” Ellen Ginsberg, vice president and general counsel of industry group Nuclear Energy Institute, said last week.

“In addition, the final rule continues the agency’s longstanding, court-approved practice of addressing long-term used fuel storage generically. This approach avoids duplicative and inefficient site-specific environmental analyses, which are already performed as part of the process for issuing or renewing licenses for reactors and certain on-site used fuel storage facilities,” she said.

If the commission approves the rule, it could be published in the Federal Register as soon as October and will become effective 30 days after publication.

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)