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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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 Waste Confidence draft 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 proposed Waste Confidence 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 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 Waste Confidence Public Involvement page for more information on the draft GEIS and proposed rule comment period and public meetings on the draft GEIS and proposed rule. 

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 are currently being revised as needed in response to public 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 recently issued 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 Waste Confidence draft 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 Waste Confidence Directorate reviewed the audit report and ensured the Waste Confidence GEIS remains in compliance with all regulations.

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Public Involvement

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 are being considered in the NRC’s preparation of the Waste Confidence final generic environmental impact statement (GEIS) and rule.  Comment summaries and responses will be included as Appendix D in the final GEIS, which is scheduled for publication in the fall of 2014.  The final GEIS and rule will contain any changes made as a result of public comments. 

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 final GEIS will include a reference to a separate comment report that will list 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 Waste Confidence 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 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 Waste Confidence draft 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 proposed rule.

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How can the NRC complete this GEIS in two years when before Staff said they needed five to seven years?

The Waste Confidence update is a high priority for the Commission, so there are resources and energy being put into its completion within the two-year timeframe, while ensuring ample public involvement. The Staff's schedule for the previous effort was based on fewer resources, fewer staff members, and a variety of new issues related specifically to the long-term update.

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How is the Waste Confidence Directorate Organized?

Waste Confidence Directorate Organizational Structure

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How is the NRC paying for Waste Confidence?

The Waste Confidence effort is paid for by annual fees assessed to Part 50 power reactors licensees, and Part 72 licensees who do not hold a Part 50 license. The NRC's fee rule was published in the Federal Register at 78 FR 39461 on July 1, 2013.

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What is the Center for Nuclear Waste Regulatory Analyses?

The NRC contracted with the Center for Nuclear Waste Regulatory Analyses (CNWRA®) to assist in developing the Waste Confidence generic GEIS. CNWRA is a technical division of the Southwest Research Institute® and was established in 1987 as a federally funded research and development center. CNWRA's technical areas of expertise include transportation of radioactive materials, storage and disposal of radioactive wastes, environmental assessments, safety evaluations of nuclear fuel cycle facilities, and decommissioning of nuclear facilities. More information can be found at CNWRA.

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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 is considering all comments received on the GEIS and rule, and will make a recommendation to the Commission. Once the staff's recommendation is provided to the NRC Commission, the Commission will consider the staff's recommendations and consider the public comments. 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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How and why are the revised Waste Confidence rulemaking documents different from older versions?

To take advantage of the GEIS as the basis for the Waste Confidence rule, the revised rulemaking documents have been structured differently than the previous versions. Because the rule is based on the GEIS, a separate, standalone Waste Confidence Decision and "findings," as were present in previous Waste Confidence proceedings, were not needed. The 2014 Waste Confidence rulemaking has been structured to look similar to other NRC rulemakings.

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Monday, June 09, 2014