Over the course of a decade, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has halved the amount of time needed to review and decide on applications for renewal of storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel.
“My understanding is it used to take something like 48 months and now it’s taking something on the order of 24 months, which means some could be slightly longer and some could be slightly less,” Andrea Kock, director of the NRC’s Division of Fuel Management, said during a May 5 webinar organized by the Nuclear Energy Institute.
This has also cut the costs of the reviews by half, though the NRC did not cite specific figures in following up on Kock’s comments. Those savings have been passed on to licensees via a 50% reduction in billable hours.
The reduction generally began with the 2010 renewal application for the independent spent fuel storage installation (ISFSI) at the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Lusby, Md., the federal agency said later last week. The regulator continues to work on measures to make its reviews more efficient, according to Kock.
As of 2019, the NRC listed nearly 80 ISFSIs in 35 states, most on the property of nuclear power plants that generated the radioactive used fuel. Together they held over 80,000 metric tons of waste.
The installations can be licensed for periods of 40 years, though the agency in prior years had limited the initial terms to two decades. For each renewal, staff must confirm that the operator has determined the “important-to-safety” parts of the ISFSI and the potential impact of aging on their operation, and that it has programs in place to deal with those effects.
“The NRC reviews all safety aspects of the licensee’s renewal application in order to determine whether the facility can continue to operate safely during the renewal period,” agency spokesman David McIntyre said by email. “The staff’s review includes a safety evaluation. The NRC staff evaluates whether the applicant has identified the important-to-safety components and the way those components can age and degrade, and proposed programs to detect and manage aging effects, or conducted analyses, to demonstrate that the components will continue to perform safely in the requested renewal period.”
License renewals, under law, must be filed two years before the expiration of the existing term – though the NRC has started offering exemptions to this requirement during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each application must feature analyses showing that the storage system and its component parts will continue to operate safety under a renewed license, as well as detailing the programs intended to address potential wear and tear on those crucial structures, systems, and components.
A number of documents have been central to the initiative to increase efficiency in the renewal process, which Kock framed as an example of the NRC’s goal of being a “risk-informed” regulator.
The process started with the June 2016 update to the regulator’s Standard Review Plan for renewing dry-storage licenses and certificates of compliance. That update was intended to provide a clear and predictable, and thus more efficient, process for staff evaluations of renewal applications.
That was followed in July 2019 by publication of the Managing Aging Processes In Storage (MAPS) Report. That 507-page document features examples of ISFSI aging management programs that can be generally applied to upkeep of licensee facilities. Renewal applicants can use the data in the MAPS Report for their own aging management programs in support of renewal approval.
“This guidance document streamlines applications, and the NRC staff’s review, by focusing the application/review on the areas where the generic technical basis in MAPS does not apply or where applicants propose an alternative approach to MAPS,” according to the agency.
Finally, a new template for safety evaluation reports (SER) for license renewals employs tables that compare the ISFSI operator’s aging management review to the MAPS process, rather than requiring a separate technical basis in the SER itself.
Since 2010, the NRC has renewed licenses for seven site-specific ISFSIs, primarily at active or retired power plants: Fort St. Vrain in Colorado; Calvert Cliffs; Prairie Island in Minnesota; North Anna in Virginia; the Three Mile Island Unit 2 ISFSI, at the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory; Trojan, in Oregon; and Rancho Seco in California.
“We don’t want to rest on our laurels there, so we’re looking at, is there any other opportunities for streamlining or risk-informing the ISFSI renewal process,” Kock said.