NRC gives approval for Holtec's New Mexico used fuel facility

10 May 2023

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has issued the final licence to Holtec International to build and operate the Hi-STORE consolidated interim storage facility (CISF) for used nuclear fuel in New Mexico.

The proposed consolidated Hi-STORE interim storage facility (Image: Holtec)

In partnership with the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance (ELEA), Holtec launched the initiative to set up the Hi-STORE CISF in 2015 at a site between Carlsbad and Hobbs in Lea County, New Mexico, on land owned by ELEA. It would be used for storing used nuclear fuel from US power reactors until a permanent repository is available. Used fuel, currently stored at reactor sites, would be transported by rail to the CSIF.

Holtec submitted its application with the NRC for a 40-year licence for the initial phase of the project, for up to 500 canisters holding some 8680 tonnes of used fuel, in 2017. The company said it expected this to increase to a total of 10,000 canisters in an additional 19 phases over the course of 20 years. Each expansion would require a licence amendment from the NRC.

The company said its "expected contribution to the community in southeast New Mexico will include additional economic development opportunities, including a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, a technology development centre and a global workforce training centre".

The final licence follows the NRC's 2022 approval of a final Environmental Impact Statement. Holtec says that "the strength-welded and hermetically closed canisters are designed, qualified and tested to maintain their integrity and prevent the release of radioactive material under the most adverse accident scenarios postulated by NRC regulations for both storage and transportation".

Holtec President and CEO Kris Singh said solving the issue of used fuel "is critical to sustain the rise of nuclear power". He added: "The licensing of HI-STORE CISF should be viewed as the triumph of private perseverance in the service of public purpose. We thank the nuclear-savvy communities of the southeast New Mexico region and their visionary leaders who have welcomed us to bring our technologies to create environmentally benign and well-paying jobs, and help diversify the region's economy thus fostering a stable economic base."

The project will generate around 400 jobs and bring around USD3 billion into the area, said Ed Mayer, programme director for the Hi-STORE CISF. "Thanks to the local support, we have persevered for the past eight years to license Hi-STORE in spite of variable enthusiasm from the State's authorities. Holtec and ELEA are proud to have worked together to eliminate the most formidable barrier to the renaissance of nuclear energy that our country faces today."

The CISF will use Holtec's Hi-STORE UMAX below-ground storage system which it says provides "ultimate protection" from incidents such as plane crashes or airborne missiles and has "negligible environmental impact". Holtec says that it is "so environmentally unobtrusive that all industrial activities such as fracking, drilling and potash mining in the area can continue without obstruction".

In its explanation of the facility, Holtec says that "in essence, CISF is an aging facility where the used fuel stored in 75 disparate locations in the country will be aggregated and allowed to undergo decay without any human intervention. The required decay period is reckoned to be several decades at which point the aged multi-purpose canisters can be safely" retrieved and interred in a future permanent repository for used nuclear fuel.

The NRC said in its announcement that it has previously issued similar licences for away-from-reactor storage installations: "Private Fuel Storage received a licence in 2006 but was never constructed. The NRC issued a licence in September 2021 to Interim Storage Partners LLC for a proposed storage site in Andrews, Texas. ISP has not yet initiated constructions."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News