Texas Firm Files with NRC for Interim Storage Site License for Spent Nuclear Fuel
- May 4, 2016 10:00 am GMTJul 7, 2018 9:44 pm GMT
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Waste Control Specialists (WCS), which already operates a radioactive waste disposal site in west Texas, has filed a license application with the NRC to build and operate an interim storage site for the nation’s commercial spent nuclear fuel
In a first of a kind action, WCS has filed the massive information request with the NRC for a license to build a operate a “consolidated interim storage facility” (CISF) at its west Texas facility located near Andrews, TX, and not far from the Texas / New Mexico border. The area is bone dry and sparsely populated located about 40 miles north of Odessa, TX..
WCS President Rod Baltzer said in a statement at the National Press Club that his firm expects the NRC to issue a final license three years from now. The facility could be open for business by 2021.
“We believe we can provide a safe interim solution for this used nuclear fuel, which has been accumulating at nuclear power plants across the country and for which our nation has been struggling to develop a comprehensive waste management system,” said Baltzer.
The proposal for the CISF is to obtain an initial 40 year storage license for 40,000 metric ton of commercial spent nuclear fuel that is ready for, or already in, storage in dry casks. The project will be built in eight phases of 5,000 metric ton each. The facility will seek license extensions in 20-year increments.
Baltzer says the site is expected to be in use for at least 60 years and as long as 100 years depending on the federal government’s ability to come up with a solution for future disposition of spent fuel.
The primary operation at the site will be to transfer sealed dry canisters of spent nuclear fuel from a transportation cask into an engineered interim fuel storage system. The WCS location has a rail spur and an on-site unloading facility. The company currently operates its privately-owned facility that is licensed to accept several forms of low-level radioactive waste. The new site would take up just over 30o acres at the 14,000 acre facility.
The application to the NRC includes partnerships with AREVA and NAC International. AREVA will support the license application and environmental review. Separately, AREVA and NAC will support licensing, design, construction, and operation of the CISF.
The filing comes a year after a series of pre-application meetings with the NRC. In addition to getting the NRC license, the U.S. Department of Energy has to approve the transfer of the spent fuel from reactor storage sites around the country to the Texas site. Congressional action might be needed to authorize DOE to approve moving the spent fuel from utility sites to the CISF.
History of Dry Cask Storage
After 40 years of failed efforts by the U.S. government and Congress to come up with a permanent solution to managing spent nuclear fuel, the WCS site creates an opportunity to develop and deploy technologies to prepare it in dry storage away from the reactors that generated it in the first place.
In August 2014, after a two-year struggle, the NRC accepted reality and told nuclear utilities they can store it above ground indefinitely.
In a unanimous vote on August 26, 2014, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission lifted a two-year ban on licensing new nuclear plants by approving a proposed rule governing the storage of spent nuclear fuel.
The decision takes off the table for the near-term future any incentive to make progress towards either building a permanent geologic repository or a reprocessing facility.
The first use of dry storage of spent nuclear fuel took place in 1986. Since then the NRC has found that dry storage of spent nuclear fuel is effective and safe.
The consolidation of 40,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel will remove that material from storage at utility managed dry storage sites throughout the country including sites that have long since ceased to have operating reactors.
Critics of the plan argue that moving all this fuel from reactors to Texas poses a risk to urban population near rail lines carrying the spent fuel.
During the press club media event, AREVA VP Mike McMahon said that his firm moves “tremendous amounts of material every day,” and he added, “the U.S. Navy transports nuclear fuel on a routine basis.”
NRC Licensing Process
The application from WCS discusses utilizing dry storage casks that have previously been approved by the NRC. The spent fuel would arrive already sealed in canisters, so the handling would be limited to moving the canisters from transportation to storage casks.
The NRC will conduct two parallel reviews – one of the safety and security aspects, the other of potential environment impacts.
Before those reviews get underway, the agency will review the application to see if it contains enough information that is of high enough quality to allow its engineers to do the detailed reviews. If it doesn’t, WCS will have a chance to provide the information requested by the agency.
The outputs of the NRC review of the license application include an environmental analysis and a safety evaluation report. The agency expect the review process to take about three years.
An unpredictable element in that timeline is that if interested parties ask for a hearing, and their petition is granted by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, then the board will consider specific “contentions,” or challenges to the NRC’s reviews of the safety, security or environmental aspects of the proposed facility.
The board will hold a hearing on any contentions that cannot be resolved by the NRC. These kinds of contentions, and hearings, have tied up proposals for new nuclear reactors for long periods of time.
The Safety Evaluation Report, the EIS, and the hearing need to be complete before the NRC staff can make a licensing decision. If the application meets its regulations, the agency is legally bound to issue a license.
The NRC does not consider whether there’s a need for the facility or whether it thinks it’s a good idea. The NRC’s reviews look only at the regulatory requirements.
Holtec plan for site in New Mexico
The NRC is also expecting an application for a second centralized interim storage facility Nov. 30. This one, to be filed by Holtec International, will be for a facility at a site in New Mexico.
Holtec announced in April 2015 that it plans to license and build a similar interim storage spent fuel facility in the far southeastern corner of New Mexico about 12 miles from the WIPP facility.
The firm said it will design, license, build and operate the storage facility, which will be an enlarged version of a dry cask system deployed at two nuclear plants in the U.S.
The firm says its facility will be designed for at least a 100 year service life and that dry cask storage of the fuel will allow it to be retrieved at any time in the future.
Holtec’s press statement does not list any other nuclear firms as partners in the project. However, the firm cites in its press statements strong support for the project from local economic development groups as well as elected officials at the state level and in Congress.
The firm has said it plans to submit its license application to the NRC next November.