United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment

Frequently Asked Questions About the Waste Confidence Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) and Rulemaking

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NEPA

What is NEPA?

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) requires federal agencies to evaluate the environmental effects of major federal actions. At the NRC, major federal actions typically include licensing actions (such as issuance of a new reactor license or a reactor license renewal) and rulemakings. Before the NRC makes a final decision on such actions, it must first conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the potential environmental impacts of the proposed action. The NRC then publishes the results of its environmental review in an environmental assessment (EA) or an environmental impact statement (EIS).

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How is NEPA implemented for Waste Confidence?

The NRC has developed a generic environmental impact statement (GEIS) to comply with NEPA and support the Waste Confidence rulemaking. The draft final Continued Storage GEIS describes the environmental impacts of continuing to store spent nuclear fuel beyond the licensed life for operation of a reactor, and is the regulatory basis for the draft final Continued Storage rule.

Public participation in the environmental review process is important to the NRC and is an essential part of NEPA. The NRC conducted an environmental scoping period from October 25, 2012, through January 2, 2013, and published the scoping summary report on March 5, 2013. The draft GEIS and proposed rule were then published on September 13, 2013 and the NRC accepted comments on those documents through December 20, 2013. As part of the public comment period on the draft documents, the NRC conducted 13 public meetings to collect oral comments on the documents. See the NRC's Public Involvement page for more information on the draft GEIS and proposed rule comment period and public meetings.

Over the course of the 98-day public comment period, the NRC collected over 1,600 pages of transcribed written testimony from approximately 500 speakers, and received approximately 33,100 written comment submissions (approximately 32,000 of these were form letters). Since the close of the comment period on December 20, 2013, the NRC catalogued, reviewed, and responded to all comments. Consistent with NRC rulemaking and NEPA procedures, the GEIS and rule were revised as needed in response to public comments.  See Appendix D of the draft final GEIS for responses to comments.  If approved by the Commission, final versions of the rulemaking documents will be published in the fall of 2014.

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In light of the NRC Inspector General's audit report on 10 CFR Part 51 relative to NRC's environmental impact statements, is the Waste Confidence generic environmental impact statement in compliance with NEPA and the NRC's own regulations implementing NEPA?

The Continued Storage GEIS is in compliance with the NRC's regulations in 10 CFR Part 51 that implement the National Environmental Policy Act. Although the Inspector General's audit did not include Waste Confidence in its scope, the NRC staff reviewed the audit report and ensured the GEIS remains in compliance with all regulations.

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Public Involvement

What is the “draft final” GEIS and “draft final” rule? Why aren’t they just final documents? Can the public comment on these documents?

These documents are called “draft” final documents because until the Commission reviews and approves them for publication, they are not truly final—the Commission could approve, modify, or disapprove these documents.   The draft final GEIS and draft final rule are not for public comment; however, the NRC has released them to the public in accordance with Commission procedures.

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Where are the comments I submitted on the Waste Confidence draft GEIS and proposed rule and what is the NRC doing with them?

The comment period on the Waste Confidence draft GEIS and proposed rule closed on December 20, 2013. All comments received prior to the deadline were considered in the NRC’s preparation of the draft final GEIS and draft final rule. Comment summaries and responses are included as Appendix D in the draft final GEIS.  Comment responses indicate whether changes were made to the GEIS or rule, and changes in the GEIS are indicated by vertical bars on the outside page margins.

Public comments are available in the NRC's Agencywide Document Access and Management System (ADAMS). To find your comment, do a content search using the term “NRC-2012-0246” (the Waste Confidence rulemaking docket number) and the name under which you submitted comments. If you encounter problems in accessing documents located in ADAMS, please contact the NRC’s Public Document Room reference staff at 1-800-397-4209, or via e-mail at pdr@nrc.gov. Public comments submitted to the Waste Confidence docket are also available on the Federal rulemaking Website, Regulations.gov. Search public submissions for Docket ID NRC-2012-0246. Furthermore, the draft final GEIS references a separate comment report that contains the text of all identified unique comments, and lists the author and ADAMS accession number for each comment received during the public comment period.

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What happened to the webpage that contained links to all the references in the draft GEIS and proposed rule?

The draft GEIS and proposed rule reference webpage was taken down because formal permissions that allowed us to link directly to copyrighted material had expired. All references cited in the GEIS and rule are publicly available, and when available, web addresses and ADAMS accession numbers are listed in GEIS and rule reference sections. For help with accessing references, please contact the NRC’s Public Document Room.

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How do I stay informed of Waste Confidence activities?

Throughout the Waste Confidence rulemaking, NRC staff will periodically send out email announcements of new material and upcoming events. Anyone may sign up to receive emails about the environmental review by emailing WCOutreach@nrc.gov.

NRC staff will also periodically post updates to the Waste Confidence website. You can sign up for automatic email alerts whenever the Waste Confidence website is updated using GovDelivery. Under Subscriber Preferences you can choose the Waste Confidence Decision (WCD) pages on which you would like to receive updates.

You can monitor the docket for the Waste Confidence rulemaking on the Federal rulemaking Website, Regulations.gov, by searching on Docket ID NRC-2012-0246. In addition, the Federal rulemaking Website allows you to receive alerts when changes or additions occur in a docket folder. To subscribe: 1) navigate to the docket folder NRC-2012-0246; 2) click the "E-mail Alert" link; and 3) enter your e-mail address and select how frequently you would like to receive e-mails (daily, weekly, or monthly).

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Who do I contact with questions about the Waste Confidence environmental review?

Sarah Lopas, NEPA Communications Project Manager, Sarah.Lopas@nrc.gov or telephone 1-800-368-5642, extension 287-0675.

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What happened to the scoping comments I submitted in late 2012/early 2013?

At the end of the 70-day scoping period for the Waste Confidence GEIS, held from October 25, 2012 through January 2, 2013, the NRC summarized what it heard and responded to public comments in its Scoping Summary Report, which was issued on March 5, 2013. Appendix D of the Scoping Summary Report provides ADAMS accession numbers for all the comment correspondence the NRC received during the Waste Confidence scoping period. A separate document (issued in concert with the Scoping Summary Report) provides numbered comment excerpts, organized by category. Appendix A of the draft final GEIS also provides a brief summary of the scoping effort.

Additionally, the Federal rulemaking Website, Regulations.gov, lists scoping comments submitted to the Waste Confidence docket. Search for Docket ID NRC-2012-0246.

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The Waste Confidence Rulemaking

What is Waste Confidence?

The Waste Confidence rule codifies the Commission's generic determination of the environmental impacts associated with the storage of spent fuel after the end of a reactor's licensed life for operation. This generic analysis is found in Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Section 51.23. The draft final Continued Storage GEIS describes the environmental impacts of continuing to store spent nuclear fuel beyond the licensed life for operation of a reactor, and is the regulatory basis for the draft final Continued Storage rule.

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Why is the NRC changing the name of the rulemaking from Waste Confidence to Continued Storage?

The NRC staff is proposing to change the name of the rulemaking from Waste Confidence to the Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel.  This proposed change is in response to public comments received on this topic.  See Section D.2.1.4 in Appendix D of the draft final GEIS for more information on this issue.

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Has the NRC already determined the outcome of the Waste Confidence rulemaking?

No. In August 2013, the NRC Commission approved the publication of the proposed rule and draft GEIS for publication and public comment. Following the NRC's well-established rulemaking process, the NRC staff considered all comments received on the draft GEIS and proposed rule, and on July 21, 2014, made a recommendation to the Commission to approve publication of the draft final Continued Storage GEIS and rule. The Commission is currently considering the staff's recommendation and public comments on the draft documents. Ultimately the Commission will decide to approve, disapprove, or modify the final rule and final GEIS.

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How can the NRC evaluate the environmental impacts of the Waste Confidence rule on a generic basis when each reactor/fuel storage site is unique?

Historically, the Commission has chosen to address Waste Confidence generically, and this approach was reaffirmed by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in the same decision that vacated and remanded the 2010 Waste Confidence update. Examples of other NRC GEISs include nuclear power plant decommissioning (NUREG-0586), nuclear power plant license renewal (NUREG-1437), and uranium recovery in-situ leach facility licensing (NUREG-1910)

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Are research reactors dependent on Waste Confidence?

No. The focus of the Waste Confidence GEIS is a generic assessment of the environmental impacts associated with the continued storage of spent nuclear fuel generated by nuclear power reactors. The continued storage of spent nuclear fuel generated at research reactors, either in the United States or abroad, is outside the scope of the GEIS and is not addressed.

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Will the Waste Confidence rule authorize the storage of spent nuclear fuel at the reactor near me?

No, the Waste Confidence rule will not authorize the storage of spent nuclear fuel at any site, and it is not a substitute for site-specific NEPA and safety analyses for individual licensing actions.

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If the Waste Confidence rule allows for extended onsite storage of spent nuclear fuel, how is that different from onsite disposal? And further, does NRC support a policy of permanent, onsite disposal?

The Waste Confidence rule does not allow for onsite disposal. Waste Confidence assesses the environmental impacts of continued storage after license expiration pending disposal in a repository.

The United States' policy is disposal in a geological repository. The Blue Ribbon Commission (on America's Nuclear Future) reaffirmed the need for and feasibility of geological disposal in its January 2012 report to the Secretary of Energy. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Energy's January 2013 report in response to the Blue Ribbon Commission's recommendations also reaffirms the national policy of geological disposal. The NRC is responsible for ensuring that the national policy for disposal is carried out in a safe manner.

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Monday, August 11, 2014