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    US-Korea Nuclear Roundtable
    Waste Confidence: What Next for the US?
    September 12, 2012

    In response to a 1977 NRDC lawsuit challenging the basis of licensing reactors, the NRC issued the original Waste Confidence Rule in 1984, essentially expressing assurance that safe disposal of spent fuel in a geologic repository was technically feasible and that repository space would eventually be available. In the 1990s, the NRC modified the original findings to state specific dates by which a repository would be complete, reflecting developments in the Yucca Mountain project. Years later, given concerns about the lack of progress on Yucca Mountain, the NRC was pressured to revise Waste Confidence again. However, the election of President Obama in 2008 and his commitment to close the Yucca site created a complete stalemate within the NRC on this issue. While the NRC finally agreed internally to update Waste Confidence to state that a repository would be “available when necessary” in 2010, the DC Circuit Court remanded the NRC decision in June 2012. The court basically ordered the NRC to address certain deficiencies in its revision, forcing the NRC to perform an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to determine the consequences should a repository be unavailable. In reaction, the NRC has directed its staff to conduct the EIS and develop a new ruling on Waste Confidence within 24 months, suspending all renewals and licensing of reactors during at least the same period. This outcome has dealt a serious blow to the US nuclear industry, which must already deal with high upfront capital costs and compete with low natural gas prices; investments into new nuclear will be highly unlikely while licensing is postponed. Furthermore, this state of affairs threatens to further erode US global leadership on spent fuel issues and nuclear energy in general.