The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has recently had to defend its nuclear reactor decommissioning regulations to the US Senate.
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commissions recent decision that the expedited transfer of used fuel from storage pools to casks is unnecessary caused an “often contentious” hearing on Capitol Hill recently, reported nuclear power lobby group, Nuclear Energy Institute.
"It’s important to emphasise that when a reactor ceases operations, the NRC’s work to ensure safety and security continues,” said NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane at the June 4 Senate Environment and Public Works hearing. “We have an established process.The NRC ensures that operational safety controls, security and emergency preparedness remain sufficient to protect the public health and safety,” said Macfarlane.
According to the NEI, Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) repeatedly questioned the five NRC commissioners on purported changes in the agency’s oversight of reactor sites once they transition from operating reactors to decommissioned sites. Boxer claimed that requests from decommissioned plants for exemptions from emergency response measures have never been refused by the NRC.
“Never has the NRC denied even one waiver request,” Boxer said. “It rubber-stamps them every time a reactor shuts down.”
Macfarlane explained that when a plant changes status from operating reactor to decommissioned site, different—but still rigorous—oversight procedures apply.
“There is no exemption from safety,” Macfarlane said. “We will not eliminate emergency preparedness. Sometimes it’s reduced in scope after we have considered a request. … [Licensees] have to prove to us that they can maintain a safe level of operations under decommissioning.”
On the commission’s recent vote that the expedited transfer of used fuel from reactor storage pools to dry casks is unnecessary for safety (see Nuclear Energy Overview, May 29), Svinicki pointed out that the commission had made its decision after a detailed analysis by NRC staff and careful consideration by all five commissioners.
“Those of us who supported the [NRC] staff’s recommendation [on expedited transfer of used fuel] did so based on a thorough review of the matter before us,” she said.
NEI stated in its news report on the matter that Commissioner William Ostendorff pointed out that the Fukushima accident had demonstrated the robustness of spent fuel pools and that the industry has implemented changes at reactor sites in response to lessons learned from the accident.
Nuclear industry suppliers in Europe and US must improve the management of their resources between projects as they respond to increased domestic competition in the Chinese market, Colin Elcoate, Vice President of Market and Business Development at SPX Flow Power and Energy, said.
Nuclear power is proving its value and reliability in difficult weather conditions. US nuclear power plants ran at record high efficiency rates in 2014, at 91.7% of capacity, according to data compiled by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI).
While each decommissioning site’s costs and requirements are bespoke, the costing models should be more flexible and universal so that tenders can be more competitive and stakeholders can budget appropriately.