New Mexico used fuel project put to regulators

31 March 2017

A regulatory application was lodged today for a large used fuel storage facility in the US state of New Mexico. With a capacity of 10,000 canisters, Holtec's Hi-Store Consolidated Interim Storage facility could store used fuel from any US nuclear power plant.

The facility will provide an interim option for US nuclear power plant operators that need to store used fuel assemblies in the absence of a federal disposal solution. In recent years it has become increasingly common for utilities to store used fuel in dry casks at power plant sites.

Today's application concerns a 1000-acre (405-hectare) site mid-way between Hobbs and Carlsbad, New Mexico. It is a remote, geologically stable, dry location with existing infrastructure, including rail, and a pre-existing and robust scientific and nuclear operations workforce. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is to the south while International Isotopes Inc, Louisiana Energy Services and Waste Control Specialists are to the east. Documents lodged by Holtec with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission "comprise a complete package of documents", said the company, "including the Safety Analysis Report and the Environmental Report".


New Mexico CIS (Holtec) 460x259
How casks of used fuel would be stored below ground (Image: Holtec)


Holtec proposes to install its Hi-Storm UMax system, which would see casks of used fuel placed below ground in a concrete lot. The system is "truly universal", Holtec said, because it "is designed to accept every canister currently loaded at every US nuclear power plant". With the radiation shielding provided by the casks complemented by below-ground storage, "the dose emitted... is virtually zero", said Holtec.

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. Yucca Mountain was supposed to begin accepting waste packaged in 1998, but had only reached licensing stage in 2009 when President Barack Obama's administration effectively terminated it by defunding the regulatory process. With no national facility available, nuclear power plant owners developed their own interim solutions, with many opting to place used fuel assemblies in tall concrete casks stored on site. The US Department of Energy is liable for the costs of all such storage arising since 1998, estimated at $36 billion to date by a US Nuclear Infrastructure Council working group. Obama's disruption of the US repository program inspired both Holtec's New Mexico project and a similar scheme by Waste Management Specialists in Texas.

The new administration of President Donald Trump is talking to stakeholders about re-starting the Yucca Mountain project and has requested $120 million for renewed licensing. Energy Secretary Rick Perry visited the site, in Nevada, for discussions on 27 March.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News