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Nuclear Waste Safe for 60 Years After Reactor Closes, NRC Says

Radioactive waste from nuclear power plants can be safely stored for at least 60 years after a reactor closes, twice as long as as had been considered safe, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said.

The industry regulator said sufficient capability for storage will be available “when necessary,” in approving an updated “Waste Confidence” finding today. NRC previously said waste can be stored safely for 30 years.

A federal commission is studying steps needed to deal with radioactive pollution from nuclear power plants after the Obama administration stopped development of Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel.

“It shows NRC’s confidence in the industry’s ability to manage this material and their ability to regulate it, and we can keep going forward with licensing,” said Steven Kraft, senior director for used-fuel management at the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry trade group based in Washington.

David McIntyre, an NRC spokesman, said regulators have greater confidence in the durability of dry casks that encase spent fuel. Regulators studied the containers in greater depth after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks raised concerns about security at nuclear facilities.

“Their performance over the past 15 years or so that they’ve been deployed has been quite good,” McIntyre said.

U.S. policy makers hope to encourage construction of new nuclear plants using incentives such as federal loan guarantees in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from generating electricity. Nuclear power plants don’t release carbon dioxide, which is tied to global warming.

McIntyre said the new rule would eliminate concerns about waste storage as part of the review of licensing new plants.

NRC has received 13 applications to license 22 new reactors, McIntyre said.

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