Final decommissioning rule expected by fall, NRC says

February 21, 2024, 12:04PMRadwaste Solutions

The staff of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has sent a final rule for decommissioning reactors to the commissioners for consideration. If approved, the new rulemaking would incorporate lessons learned from nuclear power plants that have recently transitioned to decontamination and decommissioning and would improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the regulatory framework.

NRC staff sent the final rule, which was made public on February 14, to the commissioners for approval to publish in the Federal Register on January 31. According to NRC spokesperson David McIntyre, NRC staff anticipate the final rule will be published “in late summer or the autumn of this year.”

In an email to Nuclear Newswire, McIntyre said, “Unfortunately it is impossible to predict with any reliability how long the commission will take to review it or—if they approve it—how extensive their revisions might be, so we cannot be precise on an estimated publication date in the Federal Register.”

The details: First publicly proposed in 2015, the new rule is intended to take into account the reduced radiological risks associated with power reactors that have been permanently shut down and defueled. Current regulations make little distinction between an operating reactor and one that has been shut down and defueled, requiring licensees to seek exemptions and license amendments on a case-by-case basis as they transition to decommissioning.

Commensurate with the reduction in radiological risk, the rule establishes a graded approach to decommissioning through four levels of decommissioning: the permanent cessation of operations and removal of all fuel from the reactor vessel, sufficient decay of fuel in the spent fuel pool such that it would not reach ignition temperature within 10 hours following a complete loss of water from the fuel pool, the transfer of all fuel to dry storage, and the removal of all fuel from the site.

Major provisions of the final rule include changes to Parts 20, 26, 50, 51, 52, 72, 73, and 140 of Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Public feedback: In March 2022, the NRC published a proposed draft of the rule and provided a comment period lasting 180 days, including a 105-day extension. The agency received over 2,000 public comment submissions, including approximately 120 unique comments and comments through several form letter campaigns. The NRC said that staff considered and addressed all public comments as part of the final rule.

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