New Jersey Company Could Be First in Nation Licensed to Operate Interim Spent Nuclear Fuel Repository

By GINA G. SCALA | May 15, 2019

Washington, D.C. — The possibility of an interim consolidated spent nuclear fuel repository in southeast New Mexico is one step closer to reality after the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board found opponents failed to show cause for intervening in the application by Holtec International, the Camden-based energy technology company buying up retired or retiring nuclear power plants around the country including the Oyster Creek Generating Station.

“We thank the diligent efforts by the Holtec and Pillsbury teams for this splendid outcome,” Joy Russell, Holtec’s senior vice president of business development and communications, said in a prepared statement. Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw and Pitman of Washington, D.C., provided the legal team. “We also thank our ELEA partners (Eddy Lea Energy Alliance) and the local community in New Mexico for their steadfast support and confidence in our technology’s innate safety implicit in this NRC ruling.”

In its May 7 prepared statement, Holtec officials said licensing of the interim spent nuclear fuel repository remains on track for 2020.

“This is just one step in the process,” Neil Sheehan, public information officer for the NRC Region 1 office, said. “The NRC staff is still reviewing the application.”

Holtec officials said spent fuel canisters stored at the proposed site would benefit from the low humidity in southeastern New Mexico, noting they will sustain no reduction in their service life.

“From a technical standpoint one cannot conceive of a more ideal, safe and secure interim storage of used fuel than the proposed HI-STORE CIS site,” Stefan Anton, Holtec’s vice president of engineering and licensing, said.

Holtec has petitioned the NRC to build and operate phase one of the interim repository on approximately 1,040 acres of land in Lea County, N.M. The land is owned by Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance, a public body created through a joint-powers agreement between Eddy and Lea counties as well as the cities of Carlsbad and Hobbs, located in southeast New Mexico.

In its license application for the facility, Holtec is seeking authorization to store 5,000 metric tons of uranium (MTUs) in roughly 500 spent nuclear fuel canisters under a 40-year license. However, NRC staff noted in the Oct. 9 consolidated response to hearing requests on the repository that individual canisters vary in capacity. The 500 canisters proposed by Holtec have the potential to hold up to 8,680 MTUs from commercial nuclear reactors as well as a small quantity of spent mixed-oxide fuel.

If the NRC issues the requested license, Holtec expects to subsequently ask for additional amendments to the initial license to expand the storage capacity of the facility, according to Sheehan. Under its proposal, the company would expand the facility in 19 subsequent phases, each for an additional 500 canisters, to be completed over the course of 20 years, according to Sheehan.

“Ultimately, Holtec anticipates that approximately 10,000 canisters would be stored at the facility upon completion of 20 phases,” he said, noting that each phase would require NRC review and approval.

The NRC’s application review entails a safety and an environmental review to support a final licensing decision. The safety report documents the evaluation of potential radiological consequences of Holtec’s plans in determining whether the facility can be built and operated safely, securely and within the confines of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 as well as the federal agency’s own regulations. The environmental impact statement chronicles “the significance of the potential environmental impacts of the proposed action and reasonable alternatives to the proposed action,” according to the NRC.

The NRC is reviewing Holtec’s application and one from Interim Storage Partners, a joint venture between Waste Control Specialists and Orano CIS LLC, for a 14,900-acre site in western Andrews County, Texas. Until a decision is made, the only option for U.S. nuclear power plants, according to federal officials, is to store spent fuel from the reactor vessels onsite.

Sheehan said the ultimate decision on Holtec’s application will have no direct impact on the retiring of the Oyster Creek Generating Station.

“The spent fuel at the site will remain in the spent fuel pool or dry cask storage for the foreseeable future,” he said. He noted that if the interim repository were to be approved, Holtec would likely want to transport spent fuel from Oyster Creek and other plants to the New Mexico facility, but that could take years.

— Gina G. Scala


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