NJ Sierra Club Requests Public Hearing on License Transfer for Closed Nuclear Plant

Nov 07, 2018

Saying it does not have a position one way or another if Holtec International, the Camden-based company that specializes in spent fuel technologies, is awarded the license for the now closed Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, the state chapter of the Sierra Club has requested a public hearing on the matter.

“We have a lot of questions that need to be addressed before it goes forward,” state Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said in the Nov. 1 request to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is considering the application submitted this summer by Exelon and Holtec officials. “We are formally requesting a hearing so that these questions can be answered.”

Among the questions are transparency, costs, liability and Holtec’s new dry cask storage technology.

“We don’t know enough about Holtec’s new dry cask storage design,” Tittel said. “Holtec needs to prove to the NRC that taking 2.5 years to transfer the spent fuel will be safe.”

In an August call with the NRC, Holtec officials highlighted their accelerated plans for decommissioning Oyster Creek including the use of a new cask design for storing still-hot spent nuclear fuel. It would cut the wait time by nearly half, company officials said at the time. Holtec’s timeline calls for this process to begin sometime next year with a 2021 completion date, and fuel removal from the site by 2034 and full license termination by 2035.

Oyster Creek, once the oldest operating commercial nuclear power plant in the nation, permanently ceased operations in September, more than 14 months ahead of a deal with the state to avoid building cooling towers at the Route 9 site.

“Holtec has proprietary casks,” Pam Cowan, Holtec Decommissioning International senior vice president and chief operating officer, said in August. “We can put some of that detail in (the license transfer application) if we need to explain why we are confident we can do that. It’s proprietary.”

Doug Broaddaus of the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation said the casks must be reviewed and approved before use.

Currently, dry cask storage permits spent fuel that has cooled in the spent fuel pool for at least one year to be surrounded by inert gas, generally helium, inside a container. The process begins with placing a stainless-steel canister holding the fuel rod bundles into the spent fuel pool. The fuel assemblies are lifted by a crane from metal racks at the bottom of the pool before being inserted into the canister. A lid is then placed on it.

Holtec is also one of two American companies with applications before the NRC for interim spent nuclear fuel repositories. The company is seeking to build and operate Phase 1 of the interim repository on approximately 1,040-acres of land in New Mexico, according to its application. Holtec is currently requesting authorization to possess and store 500 canisters of spent nuclear fuel containing up to 8,680 metric tons of uranium, which includes spent uranium-based fuel 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, Sheehan said.

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

The decision regarding Holtec’s interim repository could come around July 2020. In the meantime, the NRC has extended the public comment period on a second interim facility, this one in West Texas, until later this month. Written comments on the Oyster Creek license transfer will be accepted by the federal agency through Nov. 19. Exelon and Holtec officials are requesting a decision by May 1, 2019.

— Gina G. Scala

ggscala@thesandpaper.net

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