MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is rejecting calls from watchdog groups and some U.S. senators to speed up moving spent nuclear fuel from the pools where most of it is stored.
An NRC memo provided to The Associated Press on Tuesday shows the commission accepted its staff's recommendation to stop considering expedited transfer of the spent fuel to dry cask storage, weighing in on a debate over whether transfers should be made for safety concerns and not just logistics.
The NRC's decision comes after years of increasing clamor to move spent fuel from thinly sheltered spent fuel pools into concrete and steel casks. Many plants have begun the transfers because they are running out of room in their spent fuel pools without the long-promised national waste dump.
The memo, issued Friday, says the NRC doesn't want to deal with the issue again.
"The Commission has approved the staff's recommendation that this ... activity be closed and that no further generic assessments be pursued related to possible regulatory actions to require the expedited transfer of spent fuel to dry cask storage," said the memo from Rochelle Bavol, acting secretary of the commission to Mark Satorius, the commission's executive director for operations.
Bill Dean, the NRC's Northeast Regional Administrator, said in an interview that the agency had concluded that both spent fuel pools and dry casks were "adequate storage processes for spent fuel, and there is not a significant safety benefit to requiring full transfer to dry cask storage."
Five U.S. senators, including Democrat Patrick Leahy and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont, wrote to NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane earlier this month to complain about relaxed emergency and security safeguards at closed nuclear plants. They focused mainly on the risks posed by spent fuel pools, swimming pool-like structures where highly radioactive nuclear fuel rods are moved after serving their time as reactor fuel.