Feds to Take Closer Look at Concerns Over NJ Company’s Plans for Spent Nuclear Fuel Repository

Dec 05, 2018

The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, a leg of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, ordered a pre-hearing conference on plans for an interim spent nuclear fuel repository in New Mexico after the feds received nearly a dozen filings for public hearings and petitions to intervene from 18 organizations in seven states.

“The Board will conduct a pre-hearing conference – most likely in January – to hear oral argument on standing and contention admissibility,” the licensing board said in its Nov. 7 order, noting it is considering where and how to conduct oral argument most efficiently. Possibilities include New Mexico, NRC headquarters in Rockville, Md. (with the option of participating from other locations electronically), and perhaps elsewhere.

In its Nov. 19 response, counsel for Holtec International, the Camden-based energy technology company seeking to take over the decommissioning of the inoperative Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, said its preference for the pre-hearing conference is either Hobbs or Carlsbad, N.M., or NRC headquarters.

“The week of January 22, 2019 (following the Martin Luther King Jr. birthday holiday) would be appropriate, but Holtec recognizes that it may be inconvenient for Federal participants to travel to New Mexico prior to January 22,” Holtec counsel wrote, asking the licensing board to identify specific information that would assist them in making a decision of whether to proceed.

In October, Nuclear Regulatory staff recommended the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board grant a hearing request and petition to intervene from Beyond Nuclear and the Sierra Club. Both organizations have members who live within 10 miles of the proposed facility. In fact, a Sierra Club member owns and operates a ranch within 3 miles of the proposed site.

“These members frequent areas within ranges previously determined by Atomic Safety and Licensing Boards to be sufficient to establish standing under the proximity presumption for similar proceedings,” the NRC said in its consolidated response to the requests, adding the Alliance for Environmental Strategies, NAC International and Don’t Waste Michigan failed to meet the demonstrated standing to request a public hearing.

Holtec 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, N.M.

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 proposes expanding the facility in 19 subsequent phases, each for an additional 500 canisters, to be completed over the course of 20 years, according to Neil Sheehan, public information officer for the NRC’s Region 1 office.

“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 proposed 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. That includes decommissioned or decommissioning power plants, such as the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station.

The federal government failed to provide a long-term solution for housing spent nuclear fuel from commercial power plants as well as U.S. Navy reactors after rejecting its own plans for Yucca Mountain in Nevada nearly a decade ago.

Holtec is facing challenges in its bid to acquire the Oyster Creek license from Exelon Generation and kickstart the decommissioning process there. Lacey Township, where the defunct nuclear plant is located, Concerned Citizens of Lacey Coalition, and the Sierra Club of New Jersey filed the appropriate paperwork with the NRC to request a public hearing on the license transfer.

Oyster Creek, once the nation’s oldest operating commercial nuclear power plant, was taken permanently offline in September.

— Gina G. Scala

ggscala@thesandpaper.net

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