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NRC extends decommissioning comment time

Federal agency heeds Vermont’s request

Much more detail on the NRC’s decommissioning rule-making proposals, and information on how to comment on those rules, is available at www.regulations.gov (enter NRC-2015-0070 in the search field).

BRATTLEBORO—After hearing pleas from Vermont’s congressional delegation and a citizens group, federal officials will allow more time for the public to weigh in on creation of new rules for decommissioning nuclear plants like Vermont Yankee.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has decided that an initial public comment period on its rule-making process will end March 18. That’s 75 days later than the original deadline of Jan. 4, and it’s a reprieve for those — including members of the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel — who had been hurriedly formulating opinions to send to the NRC.

“We received requests for an extension of the comment period from the Vermont and Massachusetts congressional delegations and others,” NRC regional spokesman Neil Sheehan said. “The extension reflects our recognition that the parties want sufficient time to offer their insights on potential changes to the decommissioning regulations in a thoughtful and meaningful manner.”

The December 2014 shutdown of Vermont Yankee started a long decommissioning process that has spurred complaints from state, regional, and local officials. Chiefly, there’s concern that the process is so complex and federally focused that it leaves many without the time or resources to meaningfully participate.

The nuclear industry also is lobbying for changes in decommissioning regulations, hoping for a streamlined process that does away with the need for numerous exemptions and license amendments.

The NRC will be weighing these concerns as officials work over the next several years to develop new decommissioning rules.

While those rules might come too late to significantly change the course of Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning, state officials have said they want to “lead the way” in an effort to make the nuclear decommissioning more conducive to state and local input.

Process began in November

The NRC’s rule-making announcement and an initial public-comment period started in November. But almost immediately, there was widespread sentiment that the federal agency wasn’t allowing enough time for those who wanted to get involved.

That sentiment came in the form of a letter from federal lawmakers in Vermont and Massachusetts, as well as a letter from VNDCAP.

“The rule-making will have a direct impact on the communities that host nuclear power plants,” members of the Vermont advisory panel wrote in their Dec. 11 letter to the NRC. “Therefore, it is important that the public has the opportunity to participate and has confidence that the process is open and inclusive.”

In announcing the extended comment period on Dec. 24, Sheehan noted that there will be additional opportunities for public review and comment in the coming years.

“The development of these regulations will be a multiyear process, and public input will be integral to its success,” Sheehan said.

The NRC did not, however, grant a request for more public meetings on rule-making, at least at this point. The sole such meeting during the initial comment period happened Dec. 9 at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Md.

The NRC doesn’t expect to finalize the new decommissioning rules until 2019 or later.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #340 (Wednesday, January 20, 2016). This story appeared on page A1.

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Direct link to the docket for NRC proposed rules

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