Following last month's appellate court ruling, which called into question the claim that spent fuel-rods could be stored safely up to 60 years after a plant shuts down, The National Resources Defense Council has filed a motion with the which seeks to put a halt to the license renewal process for both reactors at the Limerick Generating Station.
The Exelon Corporation had initially requested a during June of 2011, but they now find themselves amongst a growing list of nuclear facilities facing legal action in the wake of the court's decision.
"There are other similar challenges being brought against other plants, for instance the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant in West Chester, New York," said Neil Sheehan, a public affairs officer with the NRC. "Whether these multiple challenges will be combined remains to be seen, but that's a distinct possibility."
The issue at hand is the safe storage of spent fuel rods, which Sheehan said the NRC initially rated at 30 years beyond the shutdown of a nuclear facility.
"[We issued the waste confidence decision] when it still appeared that prospects were good for a federal repository," said Sheehan. "The work was proceeding on Yucca Mountain in Nevada, but Yucca has been put on hold, and it may be dead."
With no long-term solution for the housing of nuclear waste, the NRC issued an updated waste confidence decision stating that the commission believed the spent fuel rods could be safely stored up to 60 years following the shutdown of a nuclear facility. The District of Columbia Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals decided otherwise, citing environmental concerns in their June 8 decision:
In concluding that spent nuclear fuel can safely be stored in on-site storage pools for a period of 60 years after the end of a plant's life -- instead of 30 -- the Nuclear Regulatory Commission conducted what it purports to be an environmental assessment, which found that extending the time for storage would have no significant environmental impact.
This analysis was conducted in generic fashion by looking to environmental risks across the board at nuclear plants, rather than by conducting a site-by-site analysis of each specific nuclear plant. Two key risks that the NRC examined in its environmental assessment were the risk of environmental harm due to pool leakage and the risk of a fire resulting from the fuel rods becoming exposed to air.
We conclude that the commission's environmental assessment and resulting finding of no significant impact (FONSI) are not supported by substantial evidence on the record because the commission failed to properly examine the risk of leaks in a forward-looking fashion and failed to examine the potential consequences of pool fires.
The two current protocols for the on-site disposal of spent fuel rods include storing the nuclear fuel in the plant's spent-fuel pools or placing them in dry-cask storage, which allows the facility to store them on dry-cask storage pads outside of the plant.
"They do have two acceptable methods of storing the fuel on-site for now," said Sheehan.
Since neither protocol deals with the long-term disposal of the nuclear waste, the National Resources Defense Council argues that a license extension should not be granted until a viable long-term storage strategy is in place.
Without an extension, the 40-year license for Unit 1 of the Limerick Generating Station is set to expire on October 26, 2024, and the 40-year license for Unit 2 will expire on June 22, 2029.
For more information on the appellate court's ruling, as well as the motion filed by the NRDC, check out the PDF files which accompany this article.