The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is extending the period for public comment as it develops new rules on decommissioning nuclear reactors.
The NRC currently does not have rules governing decommissioning. Companies, like Entergy Vermont Yankee, have to ask the NRC for amendments to their existing licenses as they scale down operations at the closed reactors.
The NRC was only going to collect public input until Jan. 4, but NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan says comments will now be accepted until March 18.
"This more than doubles the time period in which members of the public can comment on the development of these new regulations," Sheehan says. "And we think that's reflective of the fact that we want this to be a very interactive process with the public."
The NRC wants to establish clear requirements for decommissioning reactors to set standards for emergency preparedness and physical security, and Sheehan says the NRC wants to clarify the role state and local governments should play as reactors close down.
"We received comments from both the Vermont and Massachusetts Congressional delegations asking for more time for governments and for the public in general to weigh in on these prospective changes," he says. "So obviously government officials in Vermont and in other states want to have a direct say in what goes on with those sites ... This process will allow them to offer their comments."
Chris Campany is executive director of the Windham Regional Commission, and a member of the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel.
Campany has been leading the effort to extend the public comment period, and to help organize a nationwide strategy to give communities and local governments more engagement in the rule making.
"I think it's great, and very welcome news," Campany says. "It's a very serious undertaking the NRC has before them, so I don't see there's any need to rush the public comment at this point. And hopefully this will give more host communities an opportunity to think about what this means for them."
Vermont Yankee shut down on Dec. 29, 2014 and Entergy will be decommissioning the property for decades.
Five U.S. nuclear reactors have shut down since 2013, and three more expected to cease operations by 2019, when the NRC hopes to have its final rules in place.
Comments may be submitted over the federal government’s rulemaking website, www.regulations.gov using Docket ID NRC-2015-0070.