(Reuters) - The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) directed its staff on Thursday to start an environmental review into the temporary storage of spent nuclear fuel, following a court ruling that led the agency to stop issuing new reactor licenses.
The NRC did not say when it would start issuing new reactor licenses again.
The NRC has more than a dozen reactor operating license renewal applications and a dozen new reactor license applications pending.
The NRC said it told its staff to develop an environmental impact statement and a revised waste confidence decision and to rule on the temporary storage of spent nuclear fuel.
The environmental statement and rule, which are in response to a June 8 ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, are to be completed within 24 months, the NRC said.
The Appeals Court ruled that the NRC should have considered the potential environmental effects in the event a permanent repository for disposing of spent fuel - like the long-delayed Yucca Mountain proposal - is never built, among other things.
"Resolving this issue successfully is a Commission priority," NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane said in a statement.
"Waste confidence plays a core role in many major licensing actions, such as new reactors and license renewals," she said.
The NRC said "waste confidence" means that spent nuclear fuel can be safely stored for decades beyond the licensed operating life of a reactor, without significant environmental effects. It enables the NRC to license reactors or renew their licenses without examining the effects of extended waste storage for each individual site pending ultimate disposal.
On August 7, the Commission issued an order that the NRC will not issue licenses dependent on the waste confidence rule - such as new reactors and renewal of existing reactor operating licenses - until the Court's demand is appropriately addressed.
(Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Bernadette Baum)