US waste facility developer acts on local impact queries to avoid delays

Texas' Waste Control Specialists (WCS) has responded to all of the NRC's Environmental Report questions following its application to build the U.S.' first Consolidated Interim Storage Facility (CISF) as it looks to speed development ahead of an expected surge in plant closures, Scott Kirk, WCS' Vice President of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, said.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission wanted additional information on affected road and rail networks. (Image credit: SNVV)

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WCS submitted April 28 a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to build a 5,000 metric tons of heavy metal (MTHM) above-ground storage facility on its 14,000 acre site in Andrews, West Texas.

NRC then sent WCS a formal Request for Supplemental Information (RSI) and WCS responded to 50% of these items on July 20, including the two items related to the Environmental Report, Scott Kirk, WCS' Vice President of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, told a webinar hosted by Nuclear Energy Insider on July 27.

WCS has asked the NRC to file an Intent to Prepare the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in the Federal Register in order to optimize the project schedule, Kirk said.

"Preparing the EIS is probably the longest lead item in the overall schedule. It is expected to take two or three years to finish that process, so if the NRC begins now they can use some of their existing resources they have slated for this project," he said.

The U.S.' commercial nuclear plant fleet has generated over 70,000 MTHM of spent fuel to date and the Department of Energy (DOE) has proposed a pilot facility for consolidated storage be in place by 2021, followed by a larger storage facility by 2025 and a permanent repository by 2048.

In 2010, President Obama's administration shelved federal government plans to build a long-term waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. In 2012, the government-appointed Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future said one or more consolidated storage facilities should be built, independent of the schedule for a repository.

WCS already hosts low-level nuclear waste on its Andrews site and plans to build up to eight storage units to host up to 40,000 MTHM of spent fuel.

Holtec International is also planning to build and operate an underground CISF in New Mexico and plans to file its license application by the end of November.

                                        Used nuclear fuel in storage

                                                 (Metric Tons, end of 2015)

WCS has partnered with waste storage and transport experts Areva and NAC International for its project, which would see spent fuel canisters located at decommissioned power plants transported by rail to the CISF facility.

WCS is focusing on waste from higher-return decommissioned sites in its initial license application, to minimize risks to project duration and costs. The developer is aiming to receive regulatory approval for this phase by 2019 towards project completion in 2021.

Following WCS’ license application in April, the NRC sent its formal Request for Supplemental Information (RSI) on June 22. The questions on the Environmental Report, which WCS responded to, related to the impact of future building activities on the site and local transport information, NRC documents show.

NRC asked WCS to clarify how the construction activities of future storage capacity on the site might impact the facilities already in operation.

The regulator also asked WCS to "identify the existing levels of transportation on the local roads or rails to which the proposed action would affect," as well as the existing transportation activity related to ongoing waste disposal and storage activities at the site, NRC said.

Rising demand

WCS is proposing to use Areva Nuhoms and NAC International storage systems at the first 5,000 MTHM storage facility as these technologies currently house around 80% of the spent fuel stored at U.S. decommissioned nuclear power plant sites.

Areva Nuhoms systems are deployed at the shut down Rancho Seco, Songs Unit 1, Millstone Unit 1, and Oyster Creek sites while NAC international systems are used at Maine Yankee, Connecticut Yankee, Yankee Rowe, La Crosse and Zion.

WCS' incremental build plan would see capacity expanded in line with new closures expected in the 2020s and 2030s.

Low wholesale power prices have prompted a surge in early nuclear plant closure announcements and WCS has forecast the number of U.S. decommissioned power plant sites will rise to 18 by 2019, the expected approval date for the first CISF facility.

WCS forecasts the number of decommissioned plant sites to hike from 2029 onwards to reach 71 by 2048, the DoE's target date for a permanent facility, Kirk said.

"For the site as a whole, for 40,000 metric tonnes, we can take the fuel from around 51 of the shut down sites," he said.

Setting precedents

Federal legislation remains a key hurdle for the WCS project as the operation of interim storage facilities requires law changes to allow the DOE to enter into contracts with private entities to provide storage.

The Senate and House of Representatives have yet to agree on a common bill to allow interim storage facilities and provide appropriate funding. Some lawmakers have seen the funding of interim storage facilities as a threat to the long-term Yucca Mountain proposal and the result of November's presidential election could impact the progress of new waste storage legislation during the next administration.

WCS sees CISFs as complementary to a permanent facility, rather than a competitor of long-term storage.

The establishment of the first off-site interim storage facility would set precedents for spent fuel transport across the U.S., provided any state or local-level challenges along the route can be overcome, and this would support the logistics for a long term repository, Kirk said.

The facilities at the CISF could also be used to repackage any waste before being shipped to a repository, he added.

"We think that the interim storage facility at WCS will help provide a permanent solution for the industry," Kirk said.

Nuclear Energy Insider