NRC Issues License Renewal GEIS Update Scoping Summary Report

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Morgan Lewis - Up & Atom

As we have previously discussed, in August 2020, the NRC issued a notice in the Federal Register (85 FR 47252) announcing its intent to review and potentially update the Generic Environmental Impact Statement for License Renewal of Nuclear Plants (LR GEIS) (NUREG-1437). (The most recent revision was in 2013.) The notice indicated the results of the NRC's preliminary review of the existing GEIS and identified several environmental issues for possible revision and update, and invited public comments and proposals for areas that should be updated. The scoping process consisted of a 90-day public comment period and four public webinar meetings held in August 2020. Approximately 60 members of the public, industry, and federal and state agencies participated in the four webinars. The government recently published a Scoping Summary Report that summarizes the comments received during the public scoping period and the NRC’s response.

As noted in the Scoping Summary Report, the NRC identified several issues for possible revision and update, including but not limited to (1) greenhouse gas emissions, (2) groundwater quality, (3) threatened, endangered, and protected species, and essential fish habitats, (4) radiological doses to aquatic and terrestrial biota, and (5) license renewal beyond the current 20-year license renewal term (also known as subsequent license renewal).

Not surprisingly, the comments addressed a variety of topics, including several outside the scope of the effort (e.g., related to decommissioning). Other comments included suggestions for improving the NRC’s NEPA process, including comments encouraging the NRC to consider the Council on Environmental Quality’s rule changes in the context of the agency's broader efforts to enhance and streamline its environmental reviews, to implement various process-related improvements related to environmental audits, and to use the NRC’s authority to avoid or mitigate delays caused by consultations with other federal or state agencies. Helpfully, the NRC noted that it is considering such changes and, if approved by the Commission, will incorporate changes into the LR GEIS and rule.

In response to another comment, the NRC noted that it is considering the need for new information related to hydrologic alterations on fisheries, thermal characteristics of receiving waters, and rising temperatures, as well as changes in operating experience and environmental conditions such as effluent water quality. These latter topics are not surprising given the government’s current strong focus on climate change issues.

Finally, the NRC stated that it is proposing to resolve the perceived ambiguity and clarify that the analyses and findings in the LR GEIS and Table B-1 apply to subsequent (second) license renewal environmental reviews, which has been the subject of legal challenges in several subsequent license renewal proceedings.

The NRC Staff currently expects to publish the final revised LR GEIS and associated final rule in 2023, and we will continue to provide updates throughout this effort.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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