US regulators issue draft EIS on used fuel facility

12 March 2020

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has issued a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for Holtec International's proposed consolidated HI-STORE interim storage facility (CISF) and made a preliminary recommendation that there are no environmental impacts that would preclude it from issuing a licence for environmental reasons. Holtec proposes initially to store 500 canisters holding around 8680 tonnes of used nuclear fuel at the New Mexico site.

The HI-STORM UMAX dry storage system is already in use at US power plants (Image: Holtec)

The EIS assesses the environmental impacts of the entire project, from construction to decommissioning. Impacts on land use, transportation, geology and soils, surface waters and wetlands, groundwater, ecological resources, historic and cultural resources, environmental justice and several other areas have all been considered.

"The NRC's draft EIS validates our technical position that our proposed subterranean fuel storage facility entails no adverse consequences to the environment or to other enterprises such as oil and gas, ranching and farming operating in the area," Holtec President and CEO Kris Singh said.

"Our stakeholders should know that our HI-STORE underground storage system in New Mexico has the three coveted characteristics, namely readily retrievable canisters to enable at-will relocation, extreme resistance to terror and hurricanes, and a geologically stable terrain that precludes the incidence of earthquakes," he added. The company plans to bring further economic benefits to the host community through a programme to use waste heat from the stored canisters to purify waste water from fracking, he said.

In partnership with the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance (ELEA), Holtec launched the initiative to set up the HI-STORE CISF in 2015. The proposed facility would be built at a site located between Carlsbad and Hobbs on land currently owned by ELEA and would provide an option for storing used nuclear fuel from US power reactors until a permanent repository is available. Used fuel, which is currently restored at reactor sites, would be transported by rail to the CSIF. In particular, the EIS notes, such away-from-reactor storage would mean that used fuel that is now stored at decommissioned reactor sites may be removed making land at those sites available for other uses.

It would use Holtec's HI-STORM UMAX system to store used nuclear fuel. Holtec lodged its application for a 40-year licence for the initial phase of the project, for up to 500 storage canisters, in 2017.  The company expects to increase this to a total of 1000 canisters through future licence amendments.

US law places responsibility for used nuclear fuel disposal with the federal government, which in 1987 selected Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the country's single disposal site for high-level radioactive waste including used fuel. The US Administration decided to abort the project following 2009's presidential election, but in the US federal appeals court later ordered the NRC to resume its review of the US Department of Energy's 2008 construction licence application for the repository. The EIS assumes used fuel from the HI-STORE CSIF will ultimately be transported to Yucca Mountain.

The NRC is now seeking public comments on the draft EIS which it will take into consideration before preparing the final EIS, which is scheduled for publication in March 2021. A parallel technical safety review of the application is scheduled to be completed with a Safety Evaluation Report to be published also in March 2021. A decision on whether to grant the licence would follow thereafter, the NRC said.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News