NRC nixes petition seeking halt to reactor renewals

NEW YORK, Oct 6 (Reuters) - The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted to deny a petition by a coalition seeking to suspend the agency’s reactor license renewal process, a spokesman for the NRC said Monday.

One Commissioner, Gregory Jaczko, dissented on part of the decision.

The NRC limits commercial power reactor licenses to an initial 40 years but permits the licenses to be renewed for an additional 20 years. The 40-year term was based on economic and antitrust considerations - not on limitations of nuclear technology, the NRC said.

The filing by the groups opposed to the renewals of Oyster Creek, Indian Point, Pilgrim and Vermont Yankee made the filing in January following a report by the NRC’s inspector general last year that raised issues with the renewal process, the NRC spokesman said.

The NRC staff however has said it had a different interpretation of the inspector general report. The staff said the inspector general pointed out some areas in need of improvement but overall found the program to be fundamentally sound.

The staff also said the NRC has already made a number of improvements to the renewal process - some based on the inspector general’s concerns.

The commissioners made their votes know at an affirmation session on Monday. An affirmation session is where the commissioners make their previously made votes public.

Of the operating reactors, the first license to expire will occur in 2009 at Oyster Creek in New Jersey. Oyster Creek is the oldest operating power reactor in the country.

Exelon Corp EXC.N, the plant's owner, however can continue operating the reactor until the ongoing renewal proceedings are concluded.

Including the Oyster Creek application, the NRC is reviewing 13 renewal applications - some for more than one reactor.

Of the 104 operating reactors, which generate about 20 percent of electricity consumed in the United States, the NRC has already renewed licenses for about 48 reactor units. (Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Christian Wiessner)