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Nuclear waste: why environmentalists are pressing NRC on reactor licenses

After a US appeals court ruled the NRC had not adequately evaluated nuclear waste provisions when licensing reactors, the groups are seeking to ensure the public has input on the process.

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In this 2010 photo, steam rises from the cooling towers of nuclear reactors at Georgia Power's Plant Vogtle, in Waynesboro, Ga. A federal court has found that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not adequately evaluated nuclear waste disposal provisions when granting licenses to nuclear power plants.

Mary Ann Chastain/AP/File

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The nation's top nuclear power plant regulator is being petitioned by environmental groups to halt all further license extensions for 35 power reactors nationwide until their on-site nuclear-waste storage systems undergo more in-depth environmental evaluation.

The legal petition filed Monday followed a June 8 ruling by the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which found that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) had failed to adequately evaluate on-site nuclear waste storage prior to granting license extensions.

The groups want the NRC to establish procedures for ensuring that members of the public can comment on the environmental analysis and raise site-specific concerns about the environmental impacts of highly radioactive spent nuclear reactor fuel in individual licensing cases.

The petition “is not a request to halt or suspend any licensing proceeding,” or demand a chance in how the NRC reviews reactor lilcense applications in pending reactor licensing cases. But the petition does call for the NRC to suspend any final licensing decisions until it completes the court’s mandate.

Spent nuclear fuel produced by the nation's 104 nuclear reactors has been stored for decades in pools or casks at the power plant sites. Plans to develop a permanent national repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada were cancelled in 2010.

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