US NRC issues final EIS for licence renewal of Westinghouse Columbia fuel facility

5 August 2022

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has said it has issued its final environmental impact statement EIS regarding the proposed licence renewal of Westinghouse Electric Co’s Columbia Fuel Fabrication Facility in Hopkins, South Carolina. Based on its environmental review, the NRC said staff recommends renewing the licence, subject to the determinations in the staff’s safety review of the application.

The Columbia facility produces nuclear fuel for use in commercial nuclear power reactors. Its licence was issued by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1969 and was last renewed by the NRC in 2007 for a 20-year period. If the current request is granted, the facility would be authorised to operate for 40 years from the renewal date.

The report concludes that renewing the license would result in “small” impacts on all resources, except for groundwater and waste generation during decommissioning with “small to moderate” impacts. NRC published a draft environmental impact statement in August 2021. The staff “conducted extensive outreach to communities near the facility, including an extended 105-day public comment period, a virtual public meeting, local newspaper and radio advertisements, direct mailings to residents and other measures”. More than 70 people submitted comments, which were addressed in the final report.

The NRC will provide the final EIS to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for filing. After the EPA publishes in the Federal Register a notice that it has received the document, the NRC must wait at least 30 days before issuing a licensing decision. When it announces its decision, the NRC will also publish its final safety evaluation report detailing its technical review of the Westinghouse licence renewal application.

In 2017, NRC had issued a confirmatory order to Westinghouse after the discovery in May 2016 of accumulated uranium-bearing material at the Facility. NRC said it would not issue a civil penalty or cite the company for violations because of the commitments Westinghouse had made under the order. These included a number of corrective actions, such as a survey of the safety culture among employees, improvements and modifications to minimise the likelihood of a similar accumulation, and development of additional methods to provide early indications of abnormal accumulations.

Image: Westinghouse Electric Co’s Columbia Fuel Fabrication Facility in Hopkins, South Carolina (courtesy: Westinghouse)

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