NRC stops work on spent fuel reprocessing rule

August 3, 2021, 9:30AMRadwaste Solutions

Citing costs and a lack of industry interest, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is discontinuing its rulemaking for the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. The rulemaking would have amended the NRC’s regulations, adding a new regulatory framework for licensing commercial reprocessing facilities.

“The NRC’s decision to discontinue this rulemaking is based on the estimated costs to conduct the rulemaking and the limited interest expressed or expected from industry to submit an application for any type of facility involving reprocessing technologies in the near term,” the NRC said in the July 29 Federal Register, announcing the discontinuation of the rulemaking. “The staff estimates that $2.5 million would be needed to complete a regulatory basis, develop and issue guidance, and develop a proposed and final rule. Therefore, while a rule would provide additional clarity for potential applicants, the NRC concludes that it is not warranted at this time.”

10 CFR Part 50 workaround: While it will no longer work on developing a new rule for licensing commercial reprocessing facilities, the NRC said that in the event that it did receive an application for such a facility, the agency could use the regulatory framework under 10 CFR Part 50 for any near-term licensing needs. Under 10 CFR 50.2, a reprocessing facility is defined as a type of production facility.

The NRC added, however, that any such application would likely need to obtain exemptions from certain regulatory requirements. When considering such exemptions, the agency said that it could leverage the knowledge it gained from previous analyses related to the proposed rulemaking.

Background: In 2013, NRC staff began to work on developing a new rule specific to reprocessing, initially focusing on assessing the quantitative risk associated with reprocessing facility accidents. By 2016, however, the NRC found that interest in building and operating a commercial spent fuel reprocessing facility had declined, and due to other priorities related to spent fuel storage and transportation, along with budget constraints, the agency decided to suspend work on the regulatory framework.

The NRC later reached out to stakeholders to determine what level of interest there was in constructing, operating, and licensing a spent fuel reprocessing facility. During a public meeting in March 2020, the Nuclear Energy Institute and other industry representatives said a rulemaking was needed to support advanced reactor licensing. Likewise, in a May 2020 letter to the NRC, the American Nuclear Society encouraged the agency to continue the rulemaking, noting that a lack of a regulatory foundation for reprocessing and recycling is a barrier to innovation in advanced reactor designs.

The NRC, however, said that when it engaged with organizations and vendors in the advanced reactor community, it found that there was limited interest in pursuing reprocessing in the near future (within 10 to 20 years).

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