Feds Set Date to Hear Concerns Over NJ Company’s Plans for Spent Nuclear Fuel Repository

Jan 16, 2019

The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board will hear oral arguments later this month on requests for a public hearing to address questions on an interim spent nuclear fuel repository application by Holtec International, the New Jersey-based energy technology company that is also seeking to purchase the defunct Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in Lacey Township. Federal officials received nearly a dozen filings for public hearings and petitions to intervene from 18 organizations in seven states.

Opponents, including Beyond Nuclear, the Sierra Club and a coalition of other anti-nuke groups are expected to participate, along with counsel for Holtec and NRC staff, according to the Jan. 11 statement announcing the session. Each participant will have an opportunity to make a brief opening statement, not to exceed 10 minutes. Additionally, each petitioner, Holtec and the NRC will answer whatever questions the ASLB members may have regarding any aspect of its pleading.

Some of the questions Holtec is likely to face are whether it agrees “that, absent new legislation, the Department of Energy could not lawfully assume ownership of the nuclear waste in the proposed interim storage facility,” according to the Jan. 10 order establishing the format for the proceedings.

Nearly four decades ago, the federal government charged the DOE with providing a long-term solution to house spent nuclear fuel from the U.S. Navy reactors as well as the nation’s commercial nuclear power plants. In 2002, Yucca Mountain in Nevada was selected as the repository site. Eight years later, the DOE unceremoniously rejected its own plans for a federal repository.

More than a decade later, the only option remains for U.S. nuclear power plants to continue storing spent fuel from the reactor vessels onsite. Holtec’s application to build and operate phase one of an interim repository on approximately 1,040 acres of land in Lea County, N.M., looks to change that.

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.

The hearing, which is expected to begin at 9 a.m. Mountain Time Jan. 23 at the State Bar of New Mexico and continue, if needed, Thursday, Jan. 24, is open to the public. Signs, banners, posters, demonstrations and displays are prohibited by NRC policy.

Three administrative judges from the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board will preside over the session. The board may hold adjudicative hearings on major licensing actions by the NRC, but is independent of the NRC staff. A board’s rulings may be appealed to the commission, a five-member board that sets NRC policy.

— Gina G. Scala


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