NRC issues final EIS on New Mexico used fuel facility

14 July 2022

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has issued the final environmental impact statement (EIS) for Holtec International's proposed consolidated HI-STORE interim storage facility (CISF). The final EIS includes the NRC staff's recommendation that there are no environmental impacts that would preclude the NRC from issuing a construction and operation licence for environmental reasons.

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. The proposed facility would be built at a site located between Carlsbad and Hobbs in Lea County, New Mexico, 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 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 fuels, in 2017. The company expects to increase this to a total of 1000 canisters in an additional 19 phases over the course of 20 years.

The NRC published a draft EIS for public comment in March 2020. More than 4800 comment submissions with 3718 individual comments were received and addressed in the final EIS.

The NRC's EIS assesses the environmental impacts of the entire project, or all 20 possible phases, from construction through decommissioning. It considers the impacts to land use, transportation, geology and soils, surface waters and wetlands, groundwater, ecological resources, historic and cultural resources, environmental justice and several other areas. The EIS also considers a "No-Action" alternative.

"After comparing the impacts of the proposed action (Phase 1) to the No-Action alternative, the NRC staff ... recommends the proposed action (Phase 1), which is the issuance of an NRC licence to Holtec to construct and operate a CISF for spent nuclear fuel at the proposed location, subject to the determinations in the staff's safety review of the application," the NRC said.

The NRC staff will make a licensing decision following completion of its safety evaluation report, expected in January 2023.

"By establishing the HI-STORE CISF, Holtec offers the nation a structurally impregnable, below-ground, disaster-immune, essentially zero-dose-emitting, and visually inconspicuous facility that will have zero impact on the local oil, gas or potash mining operations or the lives of local farmers and ranchers, while creating well-paying clean energy jobs in the host communities," said Holtec CEO Kris Singh. "We believe that aggregating used fuel from 75 dispersed sites across the country is both a national security imperative and an essential predicate for the rise of renascent nuclear energy to meet our nation's clean energy goals."

"This is a great day for ELEA, the Holtec team and Southeastern New Mexico, as it is the beginning of the final steps leading to a licence," said ELEA Vice Chairman John Heaton.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News