Skip to main content

Holtec Applies for License for CIS Facility in New Mexico

Storage of used nuclear fuel today is safe and secure, but scattered. However, a consolidated “interim storage” facility appears likely in the next few years, where the material would cool slowly inside sealed casks while the government prepares a burial spot.

Holtec International, one of the builders of those casks, will discuss later today its recent application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license to build a “consolidated interim storage” facility on a 1,000-acre patch of land half-way between Hobbs and Carlsbad, New Mexico.

The project aligns with key aspects of industry’s principles for the management of used fuel. One was the establishment of an interim facility so the casks would not have to be monitored and guarded in scores of different locations. The other was that the project have the support of its host community and state.

In this case, the land was bought by two New Mexico counties, Eddy and Lea, with just this use in mind, and Holtec has won approval to buy it. State and local governments are on board. (The region already has a uranium enrichment plant, in Hobbs, and a deep geologic repository for radioactive waste from government operations, in Carlsbad.)


The ELEA site in New Mexico.
The ELEA site in New Mexico.

The land is 35 miles from the nearest human habitation. Holtec’s plan calls for shallow land burial, for easy retrievability. There is no threat to ground water, local birds, or, as Holtec puts it, “critters that inhabit the land.”

The facility has space for 10,000 canisters, which could hold 120,000 metric tons of used fuel. The total American inventory is approaching 80,000 tons, and growing by about 2,000 tons a year. At the moment the legal limit for emplacement at Yucca Mountain, the government’s preferred location for permanent disposal, is 70,000 tons, but scientists say that the actual physical limit is at least four times higher.

The need for consolidated storage has grown because establishment of a permanent burial spot has been slowed down by politics. The Department of Energy, under contracts it signed with the utilities in the 1980s, promised to start accepting fuel for disposal in January 1998, but it is not clear now when it will actually do so. While the law calls for the Energy Department to build a permanent repository, and allows for an interim facility while the permanent one is being built, the permanent or interim facility would be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or NRC. The NRC already has extensive experience in licensing casks for storage of fuel on reactor sites. (Utilities have used dry storage since 1986.)
The proposed ELEA storage facility occupies 50 acres.
The proposed ELEA storage facility occupies 50 acres.

The New Mexico project has a competitor that is slightly further along. Waste Control Specialists, a company in Andrews, Texas, on the New Mexico border, which is already licensed for permanent disposal of low level waste, applied a year ago for permission to take used fuel on an interim basis.

That project, too, has strong local support. The county commissioners voted to endorse it late last year.

The NRC said last year that it would take about three years to review the application.

The material to be stored is sometimes referred to as nuclear waste. In fact, leaders of the communities in Texas and New Mexico that are volunteering to store the casks are among those who believe that in coming decades, the judgment will be different. The used fuel can be reprocessed, to extract elements in the fuel that have high energy value. Existing reactors can use the plutonium that was created in the fuel during reactor operation, and reactors on the drawing boards could use other components.

That possibility was recognized by Congress when it chose Yucca Mountain. Material placed there is intended to be retrievable for decades into the future.

And the prospects for a permanent repository have improved in the last few weeks. Work on the government’s preferred alternative, Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles from Las Vegas, halted during the Obama administration because of opposition from then-Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, who served as leader of the Senate Democrats. But the Trump administration has proposed allocating money to re-start the licensing procedure.

The above is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Making Clouds for a Living

Donell Banks works at Southern Nuclear’s Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 as a shift supervisor in Operations, but is in the process of transitioning to his newly appointed role as the daily work controls manager. He has been in the nuclear energy industry for about 11 years.

I love what I do because I have the unique opportunity to help shape the direction and influence the culture for the future of nuclear power in the United States. Every single day presents a new challenge, but I wouldn't have it any other way. As a shift supervisor, I was primarily responsible for managing the development of procedures and programs to support operation of the first new nuclear units in the United States in more than 30 years. As the daily work controls manager, I will be responsible for oversight of the execution and scheduling of daily work to ensure organizational readiness to operate the new units.

I envision a nuclear energy industry that leverages the technology of today to improve efficiency…

Nuclear: Energy for All Political Seasons

The electoral college will soon confirm a surprise election result, Donald Trump. However, in the electricity world, there are fewer surprises – physics and economics will continue to apply, and Republicans and Democrats are going to find a lot to like about nuclear energy over the next four years.

In a Trump administration, the carbon conversation is going to be less prominent. But the nuclear value proposition is still there. We bring steady jobs to rural areas, including in the Rust Belt, which put Donald Trump in office. Nuclear plants keep the surrounding communities vibrant.

We hold down electricity costs for the whole economy. We provide energy diversity, reducing the risk of disruption. We are a critical part of America’s industrial infrastructure, and the importance of infrastructure is something that President-Elect Trump has stressed.

One of our infrastructure challenges is natural gas pipelines, which have gotten more congested as extremely low gas prices have pulled m…

Innovation Fuels the Nuclear Legacy: Southern Nuclear Employees Share Their Stories

Blake Bolt and Sharimar Colon are excited about nuclear energy. Each works at Southern Nuclear Co. and sees firsthand how their ingenuity powers the nation’s largest supply of clean energy. For Powered by Our People, they shared their stories of advocacy, innovation in the workplace and efforts to promote efficiency. Their passion for nuclear energy casts a bright future for the industry.

Blake Bolt has worked in the nuclear industry for six years and is currently the work week manager at Hatch Nuclear Plant in Georgia. He takes pride in an industry he might one day pass on to his children.

What is your job and why do you enjoy doing it?
As a Work Week Manager at Plant Hatch, my primary responsibility is to ensure nuclear safety and manage the risk associated with work by planning, scheduling, preparing and executing work to maximize the availability and reliability of station equipment and systems. I love my job because it enables me to work directly with every department on the plant…