The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is to stop issuing final licenses for nuclear power plants until it addresses the concerns over its nuclear waste policy, which were raised by a recent federal appeals court decision.

According to media reports, NRC’s decision could affect up to 19 final reactor licensing decisions – nine construction and operating licenses, eight license renewals, one operating license, and one early site permit.

Reactors with pending license renewal applications that are likely to be affected by NRC’s decision include:

  • Indian Point 2 & 3, NY
  • Crystal River 3, FL
  • Diablo Canyon 1 & 2, CA
  • Seabrook, NH
  • Davis-Besse, OH
  • South Texas 1 & 2, TX

On 8 June this year, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit threw out the NRC rule that permitted licensing and re-licensing of nuclear reactors based on the following suppositions that firstly the NRC will find a way to dispose of spent reactor fuel to be generated by reactors at some time in the future when it becomes “necessary” and secondly, in the mean time, spent fuel can be stored safely at reactor sites.

The court noted that after decades of failure to site a repository, including 20 years of working on the now-abandoned Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada, the NRC “has no long-term plan other than hoping for a geologic repository.”

What the NRC decision clearly demonstrates is how the continuing standstill in citing a permanent nuclear waste dump could seriously undermine the expansion of nuclear power in the US, which is already up against much cheaper natural gas.

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