Areva to help develop US storage facility

09 October 2012

An Areva-led team of companies has been selected by the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance (ELEA) as its commercial partner for developing the concept of a consolidated used nuclear fuel storage facility in south-eastern New Mexico.

ELEA was created in 2006 by Eddy County, Lea County and the cities of Hobbs and Carlsbad to secure funding from the Department of Energy to site a used fuel recycling facility as well as an advanced recycling reactor under the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). However, ELEA announced in 2011 that it was interested in hosting an interim used fuel storage facility. Eleven companies or consortiums responded to ELEA's initial request for interest to develop the storage facility. In February 2012, ELEA issued an additional request for interest.

ELEA and Areva will now negotiate a memorandum of understanding to develop the contractual framework for moving forward with the potential development of an above-ground interim storage facility for used nuclear fuel at ELEA's site, which comprises some 390 hectares of land in Lea County, about 34 miles east of Carlsbad and 37 miles west of Hobbs.

Areva executive vice president for back-end services, David Jones, said: "Areva salutes ELEA for offering a potential solution to America's stalled used nuclear fuel management program. Areva supports the implementation of a sustainable and safe used fuel management strategy for the US, and we believe that current and future used nuclear fuel inventories require an integrated approach, including centralized interim storage, recycling and ultimate disposal." He added, "Areva remains committed to continuing its ongoing engagement with states and communities interested in potentially hosting used fuel management facilities."

Areva said that it will also include the expertise of subsidiaries Areva Federal Services and Transnuclear "to offer total system solutions for used fuel/radioactive waste management, and comprehensive transportation services for the entire nuclear fuel cycle."

South-eastern New Mexico already hosts two significant nuclear facilities - the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad and Urenco's National Enrichment Facility (NEF) in Eunice - and is set to host a third. Located in a 655-metre-deep geologic salt formation, WIPP is the final resting place for transuranic waste - material contaminated with man-made radioisotopes that are heavier than uranium - from the US defence sector. The facility is the world's first underground repository for the permanent disposal of transuranic radioactive waste, and has been in operation since 1999. Last week, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued International Isotopes with a licence to construct and operate a plant in Lea County to deconvert depleted uranium hexafluoride tails in order to recover fluorine gas and other chemical by-products.

Federal responsibility for all US civil used nuclear fuel was enshrined in the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which was amended in 1987 to designate Yucca Mountain as the sole initial repository for the country's high-level nuclear waste, effectively tying the entire US high-level waste management program to the fate of the Nevada site. However, with billions of dollars since being spent on evaluating Yucca Mountain, the Obama administration eliminated the project's funding in early 2010 and the DoE subsequently withdraw its licence application.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future - set up in early 2010 to identify future directions for the management of the USA's high-level nuclear wastes - has called for "immediate efforts to commence development of at least one geologic disposal facility and at least one consolidated storage facility, as well as efforts to prepare for the eventual large-scale transport of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste from current storage sites to those facilities."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News