Waste Control Specialists pitches for interim storage of spent nuclear fuel at West Texas site

Note to readers:  It certainly is interesting when the Nuclear Energy Institute teams up with a private sector firm to pitch the idea of an interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel in West Texas. There will be more news on this in the coming weeks.

WASHINGTON, Feb. 9, 2015  — Waste Control Specialists (WCS), located in Andrews County, Texas, today announced its intent to design and license an interim consolidated storage facility that could be used by the federal government to store commercial used nuclear fuel until a federal disposal facility becomes operational. Conceptually, this facility is similar to the storage facilities currently in use at over 60 power plant sites around the country.

The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) said in a joint press conference it welcomed Waste Control Specialists’ plan to site an interim consolidated storage facility for used nuclear power plant fuel in west Texas as “a promising project” that shows the challenges of managing used nuclear fuel at a national level are surmountable.

Coupled with recent developments concerning used nuclear fuel management, the announcement by WCS that it will submit a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is “a significant development and could enable the federal government to meet its statutory obligation and begin moving used fuel before a repository is open,” said Beverly Marshall, NEI senior director for federal programs.

“The industry supports the efforts of Waste Control Specialists and other communities and states as they demonstrate that there is interest in hosting interim nuclear fuel storage facilities—one element of properly managing the entire fuel cycle. The industry believes that an interim consolidated storage facility is a prudent investment and would complement the proposed Yucca Mountain repository. This is a promising project,” Marshall said.

Other notable developments include:

  • Last month the NRC issued the final two volumes of the five-volume Safety Evaluation Report for the proposed Yucca Mountain geologic repository in Nye County, Nev.
  • Volume 3, issued last October, demonstrates the long-term safety of the proposed repository.
  • Last year’s court-ordered suspension of the collection of the Nuclear Waste Fund fee. The Nuclear Waste Fund currently has a balance in excess of $30 billion and continues to earn interest of more than $1 billion a year.

“I am confident that WCS, Andrews County and the state of Texas are uniquely positioned to provide an interim solution for the back-end of the nuclear fuel cycle while a permanent solution is pursued,” said William J. “Bill” Lindquist, chief executive officer of Waste Control Specialists.

Linquist added that the Andrews County Commission has embraced the plan, unanimously approving a resolution supporting the project on Jan. 20. WCS has operated low-level radioactive waste disposal facilities in Andrews County since 2012. The commission stated in its resolution that the company “has consistently shown its commitment to the environment and the citizens of Andrews County.”

NEI pointed out that the nuclear industry has long advocated for an integrated strategy for used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste management. The elements of this integrated strategy include:

  • A new management and disposal organization dedicated solely to executing a high-level radioactive waste program and empowered with the authority and resources to succeed.
  • Access to the annual collections and corpus of the Nuclear Waste Fund for their intended purpose, without reliance on the annual appropriations process but with appropriate congressional oversight.
  • Completion of the Yucca Mountain repository.
  • An interim consolidated storage facility for used nuclear fuel and DOE’s high-level radioactive waste in a willing host community and state.
  • Used fuel from shutdown commercial reactor sites without an operating reactor should have priority when shipping commercial used fuel to the storage facility.

Development of one or more interim storage facilities was a key recommendation of the president’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future in 2012.

Note to readers: This blog, in its prior incarnation as Idaho Samizdat, called the Blue Ribbon report a “doorstop” when first published because of the implacable opposition of then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and the lame indifference of the Obama White House.  It looks like the report has gained new and useful life with these developments.

WCS said that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has analyzed the challenges of developing a consolidated storage facility. It concluded in a 2014 report that such a facility in Texas would, as stated in the county’s resolution, “offer electricity consumers significant savings compared to storage at each nuclear power plant” and that a facility is “not only feasible but could be highly successful.”

In a separate development Areva said it would partner with WCS to provide the casks to hold the spent fuel in surface dry storage at the site.

The government has not been helpful, but that could change

Used nuclear fuel is a byproduct of electricity generation at the nuclear energy facilities that power one of every five U.S. homes and businesses. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act and Department of Energy contracts with electric utilities obligated the federal government to begin disposing of used nuclear fuel by Jan. 31, 1998. DOE’s failure to meet its obligation costs the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars a year in damage payments. DOE estimates the total liability for the federal government at $27.1 billion, including the $4.5 billion already paid. This estimate assumes that the DOE begins accepting used nuclear fuel in 2021.

“On behalf of nuclear energy producers and suppliers, we urge Congress to take action to implement the necessary elements of an integrated strategy to safely manage used nuclear fuel,” NEI’s Marshall said.

On the crucial issue of funding for licensing either Yucca or an interim storage site, Marshall said, “Funding should be provided to DOE and NRC to complete the review of the Yucca Mountain license application.”

And the key item for Waste Control Specialists is that NEI supports the concept, according to Marshall, that DOE should be authorized and funded to implement an interim consolidated storage program “to explore the unique opportunity that the WCS project and future projects may present.”

Speaking on behalf of its members, the NEI statement read;

“The federal government must begin to meet its legal obligations as soon as possible and to ensure that the federal program is sustainable for the long-term management and disposal of commercial used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. The industry stands ready to work with Congress and the administration on any proposal that seeks to advance the federal program.”

State regulatory agencies weigh in

Recognition of the WCS project also came from the Nuclear Waste Strategy Coalition (NWSC), an ad hoc organization representing the collective interests of member state utility regulators, consumer advocates, tribal governments, local governments, nuclear-generating utilities, utilities with shutdown reactors, and other public and private sector experts on nuclear waste policy matters.

“Important and positive steps are being taken on the nuclear waste front in 2015,” said Chairman and Michigan Public Service Commissioner Greg White. “Less than two weeks ago, the NWSC recognized the NRC staff’s completion of its independent and long overdue safety evaluation of the Yucca Mountain repository. Today, we recognize WCS and Andrews County, Texas, for taking the initial steps toward licensing an interim consolidated storage facility.

The NWSC believes such a facility for the storage of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste is a way for the federal government to begin meeting its obligations under the law pending the licensing and operation of a permanent disposal repository for all the nation’s nuclear waste. To best protect electric consumers and taxpayers, we call on the 114th Congress to support funding for the NRC and DOE to establish interim consolidated storage facilities with priority for shutdown reactor fuel and complete the licensing process for Yucca Mountain.”

Now the heavy lifting begins. The first question is where will WCS get the money to pay for an NRC license if Congress does not appropriate money for an interim storage facility? Is the concept still viable in terms of private equity investment? We are talking very big bucks. Next, and the key question is, how long is “interim”?  What would be the revenue stream for storage of spent nuclear fuel for say 50 years? Watch this space for updates.

On the Web

  • Waste Control Specialists (WCS)
  • Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI)

Postscript

Washington Post Editorial on Yucca Mountain

In a coincidental development, the Washington Post’s editorial for its Sunday Feb 8, 2015, edition addressed the issue of opening Yucca Mountain. Full text at the cited URL.

“The country’s nuclear power plants have produced massive amounts of reliable electricity for decades while emitting negligible amounts of carbon dioxide. The big drawback is the more than 70,000 tons of radioactive spent fuel U.S. nuclear facilities have piled up — with 2,000 more tons added to the total every year. A report the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) released in late January underscores that this problem is solvable — if only Congress and the White House would stick to a plan.”

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