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Onsite Storage: The Impact of State Regulation on Nuclear Policy

Fortnightly Magazine - February 1 1995

and the NRC to develop safe, coherent, interim solutions to LLW and spent-fuel storage.Consequences of Dual Regulation

For the most part, states are actively pursuing solutions to permanent LLW disposal, either independently or through multistate compacts. In the meantime, however, their increased involvement in interim storage can complicate matters. Dual regulation can have safety implications. Both the NRC and licensees have argued that independent state regulatory actions could divert a licensee's attention from NRC safety priorities or cause a misinterpretation of NRC safety requirements. In comments on a 1989 NRC Policy Statement on cooperation with the states, plant licensees asserted that dual regulation could destabilize the regulatory process, causing delays in resolving safety issues and generally increasing the cost of doing business.

With respect to LLW and spent-fuel storage, state regulation could increase costs through overly restrictive requirements. Examples include hosting inspections, responding to inquiries, satisfying reporting obligations, and completing engineering or packaging forms for waste storage. These activities divert resources from tasks judged more "safety significant" by the NRC or the licensee. Undue pressures to minimize waste generation might undermine efforts at worker protection. Premature plant shutdowns could arise if licensees cannot meet absolute state-imposed limits on waste storage volumes.

Some licensees have succumbed to, or even supported, state regulatory initiatives to regulate waste storage or decommissioning activities, presumably to minimize political and public opposition to continued nuclear operations. But as some have argued, state initiatives can undermine a national energy policy that reserves a role for nuclear power.Examples of State Influence

The closure of the Barnwell LLW disposal facility to waste generators outside the Southeast Compact region has already intensified the concerns of some states regarding the possible safety and environmental consequences of longer-term storage of LLW by waste generators. South Carolina, for example, recently promulgated new rules on state licensing of LLW storage facilities, including interim onsite storage at power reactor sites. The rules include performance objectives as well as technical, procedural, and institutional requirements. The NRC and at least one power reactor licensee have opposed South Carolina's efforts to apply these regulations to onsite storage of LLW (including replaced steam generators) at power reactor sites within the state.

Part of the mischief in acquiescing to state intrusion into the regulation of LLW and spent-fuel storage is that it is unclear where to draw the line. If onsite storage of LLW and spent fuel is properly with state purview, what about storage of an entire reactor? Will more states seek to regulate power reactors that obtain NRC authority to employ the SAFSTOR (interim storage) option for decommissioning? If the past is prologue, then it seems certain they will do so.

Part of the mischief in acquiescing to state intrusion is that it is unclear where to draw the line.

Oregon, for example, recently adopted extensive regulations to govern decommissioning at the Trojan nuclear power plant. State laws bar the Trojan plant licensee from removing large components from the plant without prior approval of the Oregon Department of Energy (ODOE). The ODOE has formed a special advisory group-with representatives from