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Maryland Power Plants and the Environment (CEIR-18)

4.5.5 Radioactive Waste

In addition to the production of atmospheric and liquid effluent releases as a by-product of normal power generation operations, both Calvert Cliffs and Peach Bottom generate radioactive waste products which require disposal.

Low-Level Radioactive Waste

Low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) consists of materials such as contaminated gowns, toweling, glassware, resin, equipment, and reactor control rods that are used in the normal daily operation and maintenance of the power plant. Much of the waste is safety and testing equipment that have become contaminated through normal use. Resin is used to remove radioactivity from wastewater through an ion-exchange process. Depending on the waste type and radioactivity level, the waste is dried, compressed, and sealed into high-integrity containers, steel boxes, or 55-gallon drums. These containers may, in turn, be sealed into shipping casks or containers.  LLRW from Calvert Cliffs, similar to LLRW from other industries, is transported by truck to a licensed radioactive waste processing firm located in Tennessee.

High-Level Radioactive Waste (Irradiated Fuel)

Click to Open“Waste Confidence” and the “Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel Rule” for U.S. Power PlantsUsed (spent) nuclear fuel from both Calvert Cliffs and Peach Bottom are presently stored at each site within spent fuel pools for the recently discharged fuel or, in the case of older fuel generated in earlier years of plant operation, at dry storage independent facilities located within the protected plant area. These Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installations (ISFSIs) were originally licensed by the NRC for 20 years, although recent regulatory changes now allow a plant operator to apply for a 40-year license period. ISFSI design and construction must conform to strict NRC specifications (10CFR72) that protect against unauthorized entry, earthquakes, and other natural phenomena such as floods and hurricanes. On-site storage facilities, such as the ISFSI, are currently the only long-term storage facilities for irradiated fuel available [see sidebar].

Exelon’s dry cask storage facility at Peach Bottom is estimated to have used over 70 percent of its currently available storage pad space.  Peach Bottom’s ISFSI license will expire in 2040.

It is also estimated that Calvert Cliffs has filled over 70 percent of its currently licensed storage capacity.  In October 2014, following promulgation of the updated Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel Rule, the NRC granted the 40-year license renewal for Calvert Cliffs' ISFSI.  This means that Calvert Cliffs’ ISFSI license will expire in 2052.

“Waste Confidence” and the “Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel Rule” for U.S. Power Plants

Nuclear “waste confidence” is a general regulatory term indicating that used (spent) nuclear fuel can be stored safely and with minimal environmental impacts at nuclear plant sites for some extended period of time (e.g., 60 years) after a plant’s operating license expires.

In 2010, the NRC updated its Waste Confidence Decision, reiterating that used nuclear fuel generated at commercial nuclear power plants could continue to be stored using dry storage technology (i.e., ISFSIs).

In 2012, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the Waste Confidence Decision, concluding that the NRC’s analysis supporting two waste confidence findings (repository availability and long-term interim on-site storage) was insufficient under the National Environmental Policy Act. 

In response to the court’s decision, the NRC issued the Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel Rule in 2014.This rule revised the previously vacated Waste Confidence Decision and changed the name of the rule in response to public comment to more accurately reflect its nature and content.

Specifically, the rule adopted the findings of a NRC prepared Generic Environmental Impact Statement, which concluded that used nuclear fuel can be stored for an indefinite period of time. In addition, the NRC found that a no repository scenario is highly unlikely and contrary to current law. The rule is currently under appeal in the D.C. Circuit Court.