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Ameren's Callaway nuclear power plant license extended

Ameren's Callaway reactor is the only commercial nuclear power plant in Missouri.
Missouri Coalition for the Environment

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has renewed the operating license for Ameren's Callaway nuclear power plant through 2044.

But ongoing litigation could quash that renewal.

Late last year, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment and others filed suit against the NRC, alleging its licensing process doesn't take into account the impacts of storing nuclear waste long-term.

That litigation is still ongoing, but Ameren Missouri's Sarah Kovaleski said the NRC was within its rights to grant Callaway's license renewal.

"The NRC has a process where they can approve applications for license renewal that are under contention as long as the environmental and the safety reviews are complete, and the applicant has met all of the requirements for license renewal," Kovaleski said.

The NRC declined to comment for this story, but a press release on its website confirms Kovaleski's statement.

If Callaway's license renewal is later set aside by the courts, the mid-Missouri power plant would revert to its original license, which is still valid until Oct. 2024.

The Missouri Coalition for the Environment's Ed Smith called the NRC's renewal premature and unnecessary. "The NRC is just trying to rush a license extension, even though it knows that that extension could be pulled pending this court case," Smith said.

Smith expects the court to reach a decision in the case by late summer.

Ameren currently stores Callaway's radioactive waste in a spent fuel pool that submerges the material in 413 gallons of borated water. Every 18 months, Callaway shuts down so that a third of its fuel assemblies can be replaced; the used ones are added to the pool.

According to Ameren, that spent fuel pool will continue to receive new waste until 2021. But starting this summer, the company plans to transfer some of Callaway's spent fuel to large concrete cylinders, a system known as dry cask storage.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience