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PNNL environmental reviews inform NRC decisions


NRC photo

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Construction permits for the first nuclear power plants in more than three decades were issued by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently. Two new reactors were approved for Georgia Power's Plant Vogtle site near Waynesboro, Ga. and two reactors were approved for the V.C. Summer site in South Carolina. As the NRC's prime contractor for environmental reviews for new nuclear power plants, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory played a key role in these nuclear industry milestones, completing the Final Environmental Impact Statements (FEIS) for both sites in 2011.

Why it matters:

Nuclear energy is considered one of a diverse mix of technologies needed to produce clean, carbon-free power for our nation. The FEIS is a cornerstone of the NRC licensing process, necessary to construct new nuclear plants. PNNL, with its years of experience and diverse set of scientific and technical capabilities, has become a trusted resource for this NRC activity. "PNNL is very pleased to be a part of these historic decisions that are going to help strengthen and diversify our nation's energy portfolio with carbon-free power," said Steve Unwin, Nuclear Regulatory manager at PNNL.


PNNL draws upon many capabilities to develop the documents that will help determine whether proposed reactors receive combined construction permits and operating licenses. A multidisciplinary team of experts that includes hydrologists, geologists, ecologists, archaeologists, sociologists and seismologists work on the entire spectrum of environmental concerns related to siting nuclear facilities.

In addition to providing the environmental reviews for siting applications, PNNL experts have served as presenters at the NRC mandatory hearings on application requests. At the mandatory hearing for the V.C. Summer site application, for example, PNNL staff presented an overview of the environmental review for the site as well as the environmental justice analysis and conclusions. Environmental justice is an aspect of the environmental review that examines whether construction and operation of a new plant would have disproportionate impacts on local low-income or minority residents.

What's next:

Staff at PNNL are performing environmental reviews for several other proposed new reactors, as well as contributing to the environmental reviews for license renewal of existing nuclear power plants. Looking further into the nation's nuclear energy future, PNNL also is supporting the NRC in establishing the regulatory infrastructure for small modular reactors.


PNNL's EIS work is funded by the NRC.

May 10, 2012

Energy and Environment

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