United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment

NRC: Generic Environmental Impact Statement for License Renewal of Nuclear Plants (NUREG-1437 Supplement 2, Part 14)

9.0 Summary and Conclusions



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Section Contents

By letter dated July 7, 1998, Duke Energy Corporation (Duke 1998) submitted an application to the NRC to renew the Oconee Nuclear Station (ONS) Units 1, 2, and 3 operating licenses for an additional 20-year period. If the operating licenses are renewed, Federal (other than NRC) decisionmakers, State regulatory agencies, and the owners of the plant will ultimately decide whether the plant will continue to operate based on factors such as the need for power or other matters within the State's jurisdiction or the purview of the owners. If the operating licenses are not renewed, the plant will be shut down at or before the expiration of the current operating licenses, which are February 6, 2013, for Unit 1, October 6, 2013, for Unit 2, and July 19, 2014, for Unit 3.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (42 USC 4321-4370d), an environmental impact statement (EIS) is required for major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment. The NRC has implemented Section 102 of NEPA in 10 CFR Part 51. In 10 CFR 51.20(b)(2), the Commission requires preparation of an EIS or a supplement to an EIS for renewal of a reactor operating license; 10 CFR 51.95(c) states that the EIS prepared at the operating license renewal stage will be a supplement to the Generic Environmental Impact Statement for License Renewal of Nuclear Plants (GEIS),(1) NUREG-1437 (NRC 1996, 1999a).

Upon acceptance of the Duke application, the NRC began the environmental review process described in 10 CFR Part 51 by publishing a notice of intent to prepare an EIS and conduct scoping (63 FR 50257). The staff visited the ONS site in October 1998 and held public scoping meetings on October 19, 1998, in Clemson, South Carolina (NRC 1999b). The staff reviewed the Duke environmental report (ER) and compared it to the GEIS, consulted with other agencies, and conducted an independent review of the issues following the guidance set forth in the draft Standard Review Plans for Environmental Reviews for Nuclear Power Plants, Supplement 1: Operating License Renewal (NRC 1999c).

The staff then issued a draft of the supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) for public comment on May 24, 1999, which contained the preliminary results of its evaluation and recommendation. In addition, the staff held two public meetings during the comment period for this report on July 8, 1999. When the comment period ended on August 16, 1999, the staff considered and dispositioned all of the comments received, as discussed in Appendix A of this report. Modifications were made to this report to address certain comments, where appropriate, as described in Appendix A.

This SEIS presents the staff's analysis of the environmental impacts of renewal of the ONS operating licenses. The analysis considers and weighs the environmental effects of the proposed action, the environmental impacts of alternatives to the proposed action, and alternatives available for reducing or avoiding adverse impacts. It also includes the staff's final recommendation regarding the proposed action.

The Commission has adopted the following statement of purpose and need for license renewal from the GEIS:

   The purpose and need for the proposed action (renewal of an operating license) is to provide an option that allows for power generation capability beyond the term of a current nuclear power plant operating license to meet future system generating needs, as such needs may be determined by State, utility, and, where authorized, Federal (other than NRC) decisionmakers.

The goal of the staff's environmental review, as defined in 10 CFR 51.95(c)(4) and the GEIS, is to determine:

   ... whether or not the adverse environmental impacts of license renewal are so great that preserving the option of license renewal for energy planning decisionmakers would be unreasonable.

Both the statement of purpose and need and the evaluation criterion implicitly acknowledge that there are factors, in addition to license renewal, that will ultimately determine whether an existing nuclear power plant continues to operate beyond the period of the current operating licenses.

NRC regulations [10 CFR 51.95(c)(2)] contain the following statement regarding the content of SEISs prepared at the license renewal stage:

   The supplemental environmental impact statement for license renewal is not required to include discussion of need for power or the economic costs and economic benefits of the proposed action or of alternatives to the proposed action except insofar as such benefits and costs are either essential for a determination regarding the inclusion of an alternative in the range of alternatives considered or relevant to mitigation. In addition, the supplemental environmental impact statement prepared at the license renewal stage need not discuss other issues not related to the environmental effects of the proposed action and the alternatives, or any aspect of the storage of spent fuel for the facility within the scope of the generic determination in § 51.23(a) ["Temporary storage of spent fuel after cessation of reactor operations-generic determination of no significant environmental impact"] and in accordance with § 51.23(b).(2)

The GEIS contains the results of a systematic evaluation of the consequences of renewing an operating license and operating a nuclear power plant for an additional 20 years. It evaluates 92 environmental issues using the following three-level standard of significance--SMALL, MODERATE, or LARGE--based on Council on Environmental Quality guidelines:

   SMALL: Environmental effects are not detectable or are so minor that they will neither destabilize nor noticeably alter any important attribute of the resource.
MODERATE: Environmental effects are sufficient to alter noticeably, but not to destabilize, important attributes of the resource.
LARGE: Environmental effects are clearly noticeable and are sufficient to destabilize important attributes of the resource.

For 69 of the 92 issues considered in the GEIS, the analysis in the GEIS shows

(1) the environmental impacts associated with the issue have been determined to apply either to all plants or, for some issues, to plants having a specific type of cooling system or other plant or site characteristics
(2) a single significance level (i.e., SMALL, MODERATE, or LARGE) has been assigned to the impacts (except for collective offsite radiological impacts from the fuel cycle and from HLW and spent fuel disposal)
(3) mitigation of adverse impacts associated with the issue has been considered in the analysis, and it has been determined that additional plant-specific mitigation measures are likely not to be sufficiently beneficial to warrant implementation.

These 69 issues were identified in the GEIS as Category 1 issues. In the absence of significant new information, the staff relied on conclusions as amplified by supporting information in the GEIS for issues designated Category 1 in 10 CFR Part 51, Subpart A, Appendix B, Table B-1.

Of the 23 issues not meeting the criteria set forth above, 21 are classified as Category 2 issues requiring analysis in a plant-specific supplement to the GEIS. The remaining two issues, environmental justice and chronic effects of electromagnetic fields, were not categorized. Environmental justice was not evaluated on a generic basis and must also be addressed in a plant-specific supplement to the GEIS. Information on the chronic effects of electromagnetic fields was not conclusive at the time the GEIS was prepared.

This SEIS documents the staff's evaluation of all 92 environmental issues considered in the GEIS. The staff considered the environmental impacts associated with alternatives to license renewal and compared the environmental impacts of license renewal and the alternatives. The alternatives to license renewal that were considered include the no-action alternative (not renewing the ONS operating licenses) and alternative methods of power generation. Among the alternative methods of power generation, coal-fired and gas-fired generation appear the most likely if the power from ONS is replaced. These alternatives are evaluated assuming that the replacement power generation plant is located at either the ONS site or an unspecified "greenfield" site.

9.1 Environmental Impacts of the Proposed Action - License Renewal

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Duke and the staff have established independent processes for identifying and evaluating the significance of any new information on the environmental impacts of license renewal. Neither Duke nor the staff has identified any significant new information related to Category 1 issues that would call into question the conclusions in the GEIS. Similarly, neither Duke nor the staff has identified any new issue applicable to the ONS that has a significant environmental impact. Therefore, the staff relies upon the conclusions of the GEIS for all 69 Category 1 issues.

Duke's license renewal application presents analyses of the Category 2 issues. The staff has reviewed the Duke analysis for each issue and has conducted an independent review of each issue. Five Category 2 issues are not applicable because they are related to plant design features or site characteristics not found at ONS. Four Category 2 issues are not discussed in this SEIS because they are specifically related to refurbishment. Duke (1998) has stated that their evaluation of structures and components as required by 10 CFR 54.21 did not identify any major plant refurbishment activities or modifications as necessary to support the continued operation of Oconee beyond the end of the existing operating licenses. In addition, any replacement of components or additional inspection activities are within the bounds of normal plant component replacement and therefore are not expected to affect the environment outside of the bounds of the plant operations evaluated in the FES for ONS.

Twelve Category 2 issues, as well as environmental justice and chronic effects of electromagnetic fields, are discussed in detail in this SEIS. Four of the Category 2 issues apply to both refurbishment and to operation during the renewal term and are only discussed in this SEIS in relation to operation during the renewal term. For all 12 Category 2 issues and environmental justice, the staff concludes that the potential environmental effects are of SMALL significance in the context of the standards set forth in the GEIS. In addition, the staff determined that a consensus has not been reached by appropriate Federal health agencies that there are adverse effects from electromagnetic fields. Therefore, no further evaluation of this issue is required. For severe accident mitigation alternatives (SAMAs), the staff concludes that a reasonable, comprehensive effort was made to identify and evaluate SAMAs. Based on its review of the SAMAs for ONS, the staff concludes that none of the candidate SAMAs are cost-beneficial.

Mitigation measures were considered for each Category 2 issue. Current measures to mitigate environmental impacts of plant operation were found to be adequate, and no additional mitigation measures were deemed sufficiently beneficial to be warranted.

The following subsections discuss unavoidable adverse impacts, irreversible or irretrievable commitments of resources, and the relationship between local short-term use of the environment and long-term productivity.

9.1.1 Unavoidable Adverse Impacts

An environmental review conducted at the license renewal stage differs from the review conducted in support of a construction permit because the plant is in existence at the license renewal stage and has operated for a number of years. As a result, adverse impacts associated with the initial construction have been avoided, have been mitigated, or have occurred. The environmental impacts to be evaluated for license renewal are those associated with refurbishment and continued operation during the renewal term.

The adverse impacts identified are considered to be of SMALL significance, and none warrants implementation of additional mitigation measures. The adverse impacts of likely alternatives in the event that ONS ceases operation at or before the expiration of the current operating license will not be smaller than those associated with continued operation of ONS, and they may be greater for some impact categories in some locations.

9.1.2 Irreversible or Irretrievable Resource Commitments

The commitment of resources related to construction and operation of the ONS during its current license period was made when the plant was built. The resource commitments to be considered in this SEIS are associated with continued operation of the plant for an additional 20 years. These resources include materials and equipment required for plant maintenance and operation, the nuclear fuel used by the reactors, and ultimately, permanent offsite storage space for the spent fuel assemblies.

The most significant resource commitments related to operation during the renewal term are the fuel and the permanent storage space. The ONS replaces approximately 60 fuel assemblies in each of the three units during every refueling outage, which occurs on an 18-month cycle. Assuming no change in use rate, about 2400 spent fuel assemblies would be required for operation during a 20-year license renewal period.

The likely power generation alternatives in the event ONS ceases operation on or before the expiration of the current operating licenses will require a commitment of resources for construction of the replacement plants as well as for fuel to run the plants.

9.1.3 Short-Term Use Versus Long-Term Productivity

An initial balance between short-term use and long-term productivity of the environment at the ONS site was set when the plants were approved and construction began. That balance is now well established. Renewal of the ONS operating licenses and continued operation of the plants will not alter the existing balance, but it may postpone the availability of the site for other uses. Denial of the application to renew the operating licenses will lead to shutdown of the plants and will alter the balance in a manner that depends on subsequent uses of the site. For example, the environmental consequences of turning the ONS site into a park or an industrial facility are quite different.

9.2 Relative Significance of the Environmental Impacts of License Renewal and Alternatives

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The proposed action is renewal of the operating licenses for Oconee Nuclear Station Units 1, 2, and 3. Chapter 2 describes the ONS and the environment in the vicinity of the plant. Chapters 4 through 7 discuss environmental issues associated with renewal of the operating licenses. Environmental issues associated with the no-action alternative, and alternatives involving power generation are discussed in Chapter 8.

The significance of the environmental impacts from the proposed action (approval of the application for renewal of the operating licenses), the no-action alternative (denial of the application), alternatives involving coal and gas-fired generation of power at the ONS site and an unspecified "greenfield site," and a combination of alternatives are compared in Table 9-1. Continued use of the ONS once-through cooling system is assumed for Table 9-1. Substitution of a cooling tower for the once-through cooling system in the evaluation of the coal-fired and gas-fired generation alternatives would result in somewhat greater environmental impacts in some impact categories.

Table 9-1 shows that the significance of the environmental effects of the proposed action are SMALL for all impact categories. The alternative actions, including the no-action alternative, may have environmental effects in at least some impact categories that reach MODERATE or LARGE significance.

9.3 Staff Conclusions and Recommendations

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Based on (1) the analysis and findings in the Generic Environmental Impact Statement for License Renewal of Nuclear Power Plants, NUREG-1437, (2) the ER submitted by Duke, (3) consultation with other Federal, State, and local agencies, (4) the staff's own independent review, and (5) the staff's consideration of public comments, the staff recommends that the Commission determine that the adverse environmental impacts of license renewal for Oconee Nuclear Station Units 1, 2, and 3 are not so great that preserving the option of license renewal for energy planning decisionmakers would be unreasonable.

Table 9-1. Summary of Environmental Significance of License Renewal, the No-Action Alternative, and Alternative Methods of Generation (Including a Combination of Alternatives) Assuming a Once-Through Cooling System

  Proposed Action No-Action Alternative Coal-Fired Generation Gas-Fired Generation Combination
Impact Category License Renewal Denial of Renewal ONS Site "Greenfield Site" ONS Site "Greenfield Site" ONS Site "Greenfield Site"
Land Use SMALL SMALL MODERATE MODERATE to LARGE MODERATE SMALL to MODERATE SMALL SMALL to MODERATE
Ecology SMALL SMALL MODERATE MODERATE to LARGE MODERATE SMALL to MODERATE SMALL SMALL to MODERATE
Water Quality -- Surface Water SMALL SMALL SMALL SMALL to MODERATE SMALL SMALL to MODERATE SMALL SMALL to MODERATE
Water Quality -- Groundwater SMALL SMALL SMALL SMALL to LARGE SMALL SMALL to LARGE SMALL SMALL to MODERATE
Air Quality SMALL SMALL MODERATE MODERATE MODERATE MODERATE SMALL to MODERATE SMALL to MODERATE
Waste SMALL SMALL MODERATE MODERATE SMALL SMALL SMALL SMALL
Human Health SMALL SMALL SMALL SMALL SMALL SMALL SMALL SMALL
Socioeconomics SMALL MODERATE to LARGE MODERATE MODERATE to LARGE SMALL to MODERATE MODERATE to LARGE SMALL to MODERATE MODERATE to LARGE
Aesthetics SMALL SMALL MODERATE to LARGE MODERATE to LARGE SMALL to MODERATE SMALL to MODERATE SMALL to MODERATE SMALL to MODERATE
Archaeological and Historical Resources SMALL SMALL to LARGE SMALL SMALL SMALL SMALL SMALL SMALL
Environmental Justice SMALL SMALL to MODERATE MODERATE SMALL to LARGE SMALL to MODERATE SMALL to MODERATE SMALL to MODERATE SMALL to MODERATE

9.4 References

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10 CFR Part 51, "Environmental Protection Regulations for Domestic Licensing and Related Regulatory Functions."

10 CFR 51.20, "Criteria for and identification of licensing and regulatory actions requiring environmental impact statements."

10 CFR 51.23, "Temporary storage of spent fuel after cessation of reactor operation--generic determination of no significant environmental impact."

10 CFR 51.71, "Draft environmental impact statement--contents."

10 CFR 51.95, "Supplement to final environmental impact statement."

10 CFR Part 51, Subpart A, Appendix B, Table B-1, "Environmental effect of renewing the operating license of a nuclear power plant."

10 CFR 54.21, "Contents of application-technical information."

63 FR 50257, "Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement and Conduct Scoping Process." September 21, 1998.

Duke Energy Corporation. 1998. Application for Renewed Operating Licenses - Oconee Nuclear Station, Units 1, 2 and 3. Volume IV, Environmental Report.

National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended, 42 USC 4321-4370d.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). 1996. Generic Environmental Impact Statement for License Renewal of Nuclear Plants (GEIS), NUREG-1437. Washington, D.C.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). 1999a. Generic Environmental Impact Statement for License Renewal of Nuclear Plants, Main Report, Section 6.3 - Transportation, Table 9.1, Summary of findings on NEPA issues for license renewal of nuclear power plants. NUREG-1437, Vol. 1, Addendum 1. Washington, D.C. National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended, 42 USC 4321-4370d.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). 1999b. Environmental Impact Statement Scoping Progress: Summary Report-Oconee Nuclear Station Units 1, 2, and 3. Oconee County, South Carolina. Washington, D.C.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). 1999c. Standard Review Plans for Environmental Reviews for Nuclear Power Plants, Supplement 1: Operating License Renewal, NUREG-1555, Supplement 1. Washington, D.C.

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1. The GEIS was originally issued in 1996. Addendum 1 to the GEIS was issued in 1999. All references to the "GEIS" include the GEIS and its Addendum 1.

2. The title of 10 CFR 51.23 is "Temporary storage of spent fuel after cessation of reactor operations-generic determination of no significant environmental impact."

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