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WCS Spent Fuel Facility Restarts Effort for NRC License

Dan Yurman's picture
Editor & Publisher NeutronBytes, a blog about nuclear energy

Publisher of NeutronBytes, a blog about nuclear energy online since 2007.  Consultant and project manager for technology innovation processes and new product / program development for commercial...

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  • Apr 12, 2018 12:00 pm GMT

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  • spent fuel storageAfter putting its proposal on hold in April 2017 due to financial concerns, Waste Control Specialists (WCS) announced in late March 2018 that it will resume licensing work at the NRC for a consolidated interim storage facility (CSF) for spent fuel at a site near Andrews, TX.
  • The firm also announced that it has formed a joint venture with Orano USA (a rebranded Areva Nuclear Materials). That company will bring to the project “decades of expertise in used fuel packaging, storage, and transportation” according to Scott State, CEO of WCS.
  • The objective of the CSF is to take spent fuel stored at nuclear reactors across the U.S. and hold it at the Andrews site until one or more permanent disposition strategies are developed by the nuclear industry and the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • The proposal for the CSF 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.

Jeff Isakson, the president of the joint venture, said in an email statement, “As the proposed new license owner, the joint venture is responsible for application expenses. The strength of the joint venture’s partners ensures the commitment necessary to support the license and serve an expanding market. At this early point in the process, we don’t want to speculate about the licensing timeline or process.”

In a press statement Sam Shakir, CEO of Orano USA stated, “The joint venture will provide safety, flexibility and value for used nuclear fuel titleholders and reduce U.S. taxpayer liabilities for ongoing storage, while plans for a permanent federal repository continue. Currently, used nuclear fuel is stored at more than 70 active and decommissioned nuclear reactor facilities in 34 states across the country, awaiting the development of a permanent geologic repository.” (map of spent fuel storage sites in US (large PNG graphics file).

The firm announced the name of the Orano/WCS joint venture at 2018 Waste Management Symposia: Interim Storage Partners (ISP) on March 20th.

Restart of licensing will overcome cost issues

An earlier effort by Waste Control Specialists (WCS)  to obtain an NRC license for the project at a site in Andrews, TX, was reported in April 2017 as being on hold due to the unexpectedly high costs. Media reports pegged the costs to be $7.5M, for preparing the NRC application and meeting the requirements of the agency’s review process.

At the time Rod Baltzer, the company’s president and CEO, said in a letter to the NRC, “Waste Control Specialists is faced with a magnitude of financial burdens that currently make pursuit of licensing unsupportable.”

In January 2018 Waste Control Specialists was acquired by J.F. Lehman & Company (JFLCO) as its fourth major acquisition in the environmental and technical services sector. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Debt financing for the transaction was provided by The Carlyle Group’s Credit Opportunities Fund.

Financial support for WCS in the joint venture with Orano will be now be provided by its new owner. Glenn Shor, Managing Director at JFLCO, stated in a press statement, “Our partnership with WCS will ensure the business has the resources required to support its long-term growth strategy across the government and commercial marketplace.”

A spokesman for the firm added in an email, “As the proposed new license owner, the joint venture is responsible for application expenses. The strength of the joint venture’s partners ensures the commitment necessary to support the license and serve an expanding market.”

In terms of how WCS makes money on the project, WCS has previously stated it sees the DOE as its sole customer. DOE would pay for and arrange to transport spent fuel from reactor sites to the  WCS CSF. DOE would pay WCS to store the spent fuel at the WCS site until it is shipped offsite to a national geological repository for final disposal or for any other form of final disposition.

The NRC accepted the WCS application (Docket No. 72-1050) as being technically complete in January 2017.

Status of the Holtec Project

In March 2017 Holtec International, a nuclear fuel manufacturing company based in Florida, filed an application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to create a temporary storage facility that would consolidate spent fuel from across the U.S. at a single site near Carlsbad, NM, about 15 miles north of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

Holtec International wants a 40-year license to store up to 500 dry casks holding 8,680 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel. Eventually, the firm plans to store up to 10,000 casks. The NRC accepted the application for docketing and technical review on February 28, 2018. The agency has announced a series of public meetings to take place in New Mexico to get public input on the project.

Holtec is privately held and has not released any information on the cost of the licensing process nor whether it has any partnerships or outside investors in the project.

Spent Fuel in the U.S.

According to the U.S. General Accounting Office the U.S. commercial power industry alone has generated more spent nuclear fuel than any other country—nearly 80,000 metric tons. This spent nuclear fuel is enough to fill a football field about 20 meters deep.

NRC schematic of spent fuel casks

Conceptual image of dry cask spent fuel storage. Image: NRC

According to GAO delays by DOE in taking custody of commercial spent nuclear fuel for interim storage or disposal add to federal government liabilities. Specifically, the federal government bears part of the storage costs as a result of industry lawsuits over DOE’s failure to take custody of commercial spent nuclear fuel in 1998, as required by contracts entered into under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982.

DOE reported at the end of fiscal year 2016 that the federal government has paid industry about 6.1 billion in damages and has projected future liabilities at about $24.7 billion. Each year of delay adds about $500 million to federal liabilities.

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