The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced that it would resume a review for an consolidated interim spent fuel storage facility in Andrews County, Texas, on behalf of Interim Storage Partners.
The application was first filed by Waste Control Specialists (WCS), which already operates a storage site for Class A, B and C low level radioactive waste at the facility near the crook of the western elbow of the Lone Star State. The application was filed in 2016, but the review was suspended in April 2017 when WCS requested a delay to accommodate a pending sale of the company.
The company was sold to J.F. Lehman & Company in January 2018. Shortly after that, in March, WCS formed a partnership with Orano US called Interim Storage Partners.
A revised application for a license review was submitted in June. On Sept. 5, the NRC said it would resume the review, which was halted in mid-stream, in 2017 in the middle of an open public comment period in which the public was invited to comment on the consolidated waste facility's environmental review. At the same time, the NRC suspended an open invitation for interested parties to request a public hearing on the issue.
Both of those procedural steps will be re-opened, the NRC said. The opportunity to request a hearing is available through Oct. 29, while the opportunity for public comment is available through Oct. 19.
The need for a solution to spent fuel storage becomes more pressing each day with the growth of the nation's stockpile of spent fuel at nuclear power plants around the country and with the unexpected rapid pace of nuclear plant closures. Many plants are nearing the end of their operating lives, but many plants that are still viable and some coming close to their age-limits are closing due to economic headwinds, primarily a glut in the natural gas market brought on by the advance of hydro-fracking technology.
Congress is now considering a revival of the effort to focus on Yucca Mountain as a long-term storage facility, but political and practical hurdles stand in the way of going forward with Yucca Mountain. “
After an estimated $15 billion spent on studying the Yucca Mountain option, times have changed. “Assumptions that were made back in 2008 that the Nuclear Waste Fund was viable to operate Yucca Mountain, those are no longer valid,” Power Magazine quoted Ward Sproat, former director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management at the U.S. Department of Energy at a recent panel discussion at a waste storage conference in Henderson, Nevada.
Sproat named “politics and time,” as working against the Yucca Mountain options, noting that it would take 30 years to develop the site and the United States, for better or worse, has frequent changes in leadership that creates a stop/start, stop/start pattern for large, controversial projects.
Power Magazine noted that private companies are likely to fill in the gap while politicians scratch their heads. Holtec International is also developing a consolidated interim storage facility to be sited outside Carlsbad, New Mexico. Holtec has also been purchasing closed nuclear power plants, which would create a guaranteed market for their storage facility.
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