COLUMBIA — The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is putting a hold on requests for new reactor construction and license renewals —including Missouri's only nuclear power plant — after a recent federal court ruling questioned the agency's plans for storing radioactive waste.
The NRC's Tuesday ruling will delay at least 19 requests by utilities for new construction and operating licenses or license renewals. Those projects include Ameren Corp.'s request for a 20-year license renewal at its Callaway County plant in central Missouri; a renewal request by the Calvert Cliffs power plant in southern Maryland; and a request by Florida Power & Light to build two new reactors at its Turkey Point nuclear plant south of Miami.
A coalition of two dozen environmental groups sought the delay after a federal appeals court in Washington ruled in June that the NRC's plans for long-term storage of radioactive waste at individual reactors were insufficient.
The ruling came in response to a lawsuit by New York's attorney general and his counterparts in New Jersey, Connecticut and Vermont over a relicensing application for the Indian Point nuclear plant along the Hudson River.
The appeals court found that spent nuclear fuel rods stored on site at power plants "pose a dangerous, long-term health and environmental risk." The NRC fought for decades to build a national waste storage site at Yucca Mountain in the Nevada desert, but that plan was scrapped two years ago by the Obama administration.
Ed Smith, safe energy director for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, called the agency's decision "essentially the first time the NRC cannot generically say that spent nuclear fuel pools, which are located at every nuclear reactor, are safe."
The Missouri coalition was among the groups challenging the NRC's plans.
While Ameren's Callaway plant license doesn't expire until 2024, the time frame for its license renewal likely will be pushed back from 2013 by another four or five years, Smith suggested.
"It's a win for public safety that the U.S. Court of Appeals has vacated the NRC regulations on nuclear waste," Smith added. "Now the public will have an opportunity to comment on provisions for safely storing radioactive waste, which may or may not actually be viable."
On Wednesday afternoon, Ameren issued a statement noting that the agency's "licensing reviews and proceedings will move forward," with the ruling more narrowly applied to the final issuance of permits.
In New York, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the Tuesday ruling shows that "the NRC has finally changed course" and "has committed to addressing the risks posed by long-term nuclear waste storage."