NJ says no to 60-year storage of spent nuclear fuel

New Jersey is entering the fray about spent nuclear fuel. 

Today, it sought permission from a federal appeals court to join with New York, Vermont and Connecticut in their challenge of a Nuclear Regulatory Commission decision to allow spent fuel to remain at nuclear power plants for 60 years past the licensed life of the reactor.

In other words, the place could be shut down, and the radioactive fuel could remain on-site for another 60 years.

The previous rule allowed the fuel to remain on site for 30 years.

What to do with the fuel has been a national problem. The federal government proposed a storage facility at Nevada's Yucca Mountain, but that plan fell through. Some plants with spent fuel and no where else to put it are resorting to "dry cask" storage, where the spent rods are placed in massive vaults outside the reactors.

The challenge, filed with the U.S. Appellate Court for the District of Columbia Circuit, contends the NRC acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in developing the new 60-year rule, and failed to perform an environmental impact statement as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, a state Department of Environmental Protection press release said. 

"We are joining in this challenge because of the potential of significant public health and safety implications, and the potential impact on New Jersey's environment,'' said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin. "The failure of the NRC to conduct an adequate environmental impact statement is troubling. The federal government has an obligation to develop a permanent plan for nuclear waste storage, and cannot avoid an answer by extending the time that radioactive waste is allowed to remain on sites in New Jersey and across the nation. That is not acceptable.''

New Jersey has four operating nuclear reactors that are affected by NRC rules: Oyster Creek in Lacey Township, Hope Creek in Lower Alloways Creek, and two units at the Salem Nuclear Generating Station, also in Lower Alloways Creek.

The first announced closure is for Oyster Creek, owned by the Exelon Corp, which last December agreed to close the plant by the end of 2019, ten years before its license expires, rather than build a cooling tower, as the DEP had required.  The agreement allows Exelon to store its spent nuclear fuel on site until the federal Department of Energy accepts it for permanent storage at a geological repository, the DEP said.

In February, New York, Vermont, and Connecticut filed a petition for review of the NRC rule. The Natural Resources Defense Council, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Riverkeeper, and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, sought to join that action.

View the DEP's filing at: http://www.nj.gov/dep/docs/nrcmotion20110315.pdf

View the NRC's rule at: http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=NRC-2008-0404-0166