Waste Confidence is an expression of assurance regarding the management of SNF now and into the future. The term was coined by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in the 1980s but it has evolved over the past 3 decades and is continuing to evolve. The Waste Confidence Decision underlies the Waste Confidence Rule, and together they reflect the confidence of the NRC that disposal and storage of SNF is both technically feasible and physically available – either now or when needed. In addition, the Waste Confidence Decision and Waste Confidence Rule establish certain generic findings that allow NRC to conclude that site-specific environmental impacts of SNF storage and disposal do not have to be considered in the licensing process for new nuclear reactors, for extensions of existing operating licenses, or in the approvals required for dry cask storage facilities.
Just as important as what is Waste Confidence, is what Waste Confidence is not. Waste Confidence is not a regulatory program or a specific licensing decision and does not authorize the construction or operation of a nuclear power plant or an independent spent fuel storage installation (ISFSI). Likewise, Waste Confidence does not approve the renewal of an operating license for a nuclear power plant, does not permit the decommissioning of a shutdown nuclear power plant, and does not authorize SNF storage in dry casks at nuclear plants or anywhere else. Finally, the Waste Confidence Decision and Waste Confidence Rule do not, alone, satisfy NRC’s regulatory obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) to evaluate the environmental impacts of proposed major federal actions.
This issue is presented here for three principal reasons. First, Waste Confidence allows NRC to authorize certain licensing activities — including both on-site and off-site storage of SNF — without having to worry about whether, when or where a geologic repository will exist for the ultimate disposal of SNF (either at Yucca Mountain or another site). Second, Waste Confidence permits dry cask storage at existing nuclear power reactor sites without first assessing possible site-specific environmental impacts during the period in which the reactors are operating and, currently, for 60 years after the reactors are shutdown. Third, Waste Confidence is now undergoing a more extensive review — by both the NRC and the public — to assess whether even longer periods of SNF storage are environmentally acceptable (to 300 years total). As this review develops, the site will monitor and report on important developments and decisions.