NRC updating GEIS rule for new nuclear technology

April 23, 2024, 3:00PMNuclear News

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is issuing a proposed generic environmental impact statement (GEIS) for use in reviewing applications for new nuclear reactors.

In an April 17 memo, NRC secretary Carrie Safford wrote that the commission approved NRC staff’s recommendation to publish in the Federal Register a proposed rule amending 10 CFR Part 51, “Environmental Protection Regulations for Domestic Licensing and Related Regulatory Functions.”

In short, the NRC is proposing a technology-neutral approach for the GEIS to streamline the environmental reviews for future nuclear reactors.

What’s next: The NRC will seek public comment on the proposed rule following its publication in the Federal Register and will hold public meetings and use other methods to solicit comments.

Safford also said the proposed rule will be reviewed every 10 years.

A closer look: The memo instructed staff to do the following:

  • Remove the definition of “advanced nuclear reactor” from the rulemaking package and related guidance documents.
  • Ensure the rulemaking package and related documents clearly describe the applicability of the GEIS, including revising the executive summary.
  • Change the limited applicability of this GEIS from solely “advanced nuclear reactors” to any new nuclear reactor application.
  • Remove references to fusion reactors in the proposed rule in light of the commission’s direction to regulate near-term fusion systems under the 10 CFR Part 30 material framework.
  • Use the comment period to solicit public and stakeholder feedback specific to the applicability of the GEIS.

If the rule is finalized, new reactor license filings would supplement applicable generic environmental findings with evaluation of project-specific issues.

Related news: The NRC spent time last year seeking public feedback on another update to its environmental standards regarding license renewal for legacy nuclear plants. That proposed rule updated the environmental review process to apply to all license renewals—not just initial renewal—as the life of nuclear plants has been extended from 60 to 80 years among some of the U.S. reactor fleet.

The update also added consideration for newer environmental issues, such as the impact of greenhouse gases on nuclear plants.

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