U.S. NRC Blog

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WCS Sends NRC Interim Storage Application

Mark Lombard
Director, Division of Spent Fuel Management

You may have heard that the NRC has received an application today for a centralized storage facility for spent nuclear fuel. We thought this would be a good time to talk about what that facility would do, and how we will review the application.

First some background. “Spent fuel” is the term we use for nuclear fuel that has been burned in a reactor. When spent fuel is removed from a reactor, it is very hot, so it is put immediately into an onsite pool of water for cooling. Initially, the plan in the ‘70s had been to send the spent fuel for “reprocessing” prior to final disposal, so usable elements could be removed and made into fresh fuel. But reprocessing fell out of favor in the United States in the ‘80s.

Officials from Waste Control Specialists deliver its application to construct and operate a consolidated interim storage facility to Joel Munday, Acting Deputy Director of the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards.

Officials from Waste Control Specialists deliver its application to construct and operate a consolidated interim storage facility to Joel Munday, Acting Deputy Director of the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards.

To manage their growing inventory, nuclear utilities turned to dry storage. The idea behind dry storage casks is to cool the fuel passively, without the need for water, pumps or fans. The first U.S. dry storage system was loaded in 1986. In the past 30 years, dry storage has proven to be safe and effective.

Against this backdrop, a Texas company, Waste Control Specialists (WCS), filed an application with us today for a dry cask storage facility to be located in Andrews County. WCS plans to store spent fuel from commercial reactors; initially, from reactors that have permanently shut down.

The application discusses utilizing dry storage casks that have previously been approved by the NRC. The spent fuel would arrive already sealed in canisters, so the handling would be limited to moving the canisters from transportation to storage casks.

Ever since Congress enacted the first law for managing spent nuclear fuel in 1982, federal policy has included some centralized site to store spent fuel before final disposal in a repository. Congress made DOE responsible for taking spent fuel from commercial reactors. It gave NRC the responsibility to review the technical aspects of storage facility designs to ensure they protect public health and safety and the environment.

We conduct two parallel reviews – one of the safety and security aspects, the other of potential environment impacts.

But before those reviews get underway, we will review the application to see if it contains enough information that is of high enough quality to allow us to do the detailed reviews. If it doesn’t, WCS will have a chance to supplement it. If we find the application is sufficient and accept it, we will publish a notice in the Federal Register. This notice will alert the public that we have accepted the application for technical review, and offer an opportunity to ask for a hearing.

Then we begin our reviews. At the beginning of our safety and security review, NRC staff will hold a public meeting near the site to answer questions about our process. We’ll also have public meetings with WCS as needed so the staff can ask questions about the application. We will document this review in a Safety Evaluation Report.

Once we get public and stakeholder input on the scope of our environmental review, we will conduct the review and document the results in a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). We’ll ask the public and stakeholders to comment on the draft. After considering those comments, we’ll finalize it.

We expect the review process to take us about three years, assuming WCS provides us with good information in a timely way during our review.

If interested parties ask for a hearing, and their petition is granted by our Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, then the board will consider specific “contentions,” or challenges to our reviews of the safety, security or environmental aspects of the proposed facility. The board will hold a hearing on any contentions that cannot be resolved. We can’t predict how long this hearing process would take.

The Safety Evaluation Report, the EIS and the hearing need to be complete before the NRC staff can make a licensing decision. If the application meets our regulations, we’re legally bound to issue a license. We don’t consider whether there’s a need for the facility or whether we think it’s a good idea. Our reviews look at the regulatory requirements, which are carefully designed to ensure public health and safety will be protected, and at the potential environmental impacts and applicant’s plans for mitigating them.

Incidentally, we are expecting an application for a second centralized interim storage facility Nov. 30. This one, to be filed by Holtec International, will be for a site in New Mexico. We’ll follow the same process in reviewing that application.

19 responses to “WCS Sends NRC Interim Storage Application

  1. Dean Chaney January 17, 2017 at 10:32 am

    Do not put any bets on Texas agreeing to this venture. They reneged on the siting of a low-level waste dump in the 80’s.

  2. Abela Moorey July 6, 2016 at 1:50 am

    Nice Sharing! I agree completely with you here. It is a very valuable and helpful collection of blogs. I am trying to gain information from all these. Really helpful post. Thank you..!!

  3. 1948billhawkins May 2, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    It is unlikely that any U.S. reactors face an immediate environmental threat except San Onofre due to the inability to implement a timely spent fuel disposal program at Yucca Mountain. All of the commercial nuclear plants in the U.S. have spent fuel pools that are filled with roughly five reactor cores of spent fuel, and most have also built on-site dry storage facilities (Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installations or ISFSIs) for handling fuel discharges in excess of pool capacities. A better means of handling this spent fuel, with regard to both costs and safety, would be for the NRC to approve centralized, interim dry storage facilities proposed by WCS and Holtec.

    With expedited licensing and construction, a program beginning in 2020 In USA with a removal capacity of 6,000 metric tons of uranium (MTU) per year for 10 years and a 3,000 MTU per year pace thereafter would be able to accommodate all of these goals — allowing full decommissioning of sites awaiting fuel removal, retiring all private ISFSIs by 2040, and achieving approximately a 10% reduction in average wet pool density. By contrast, delaying a licensing and construction would cost the industry about $1.6 billion in increased at-reactor storage costs and represent a failure to respond in a timely fashion to some of the important lessons from Fukushima.

    A system of dry storage for spent fuel WCS and Holtec facilities would offer a number of engineering and economic advantages over the current practice of holding spent fuel at individual reactor sites. The lack of a repository like Yucca Mountain has forced the industry to develop considerable expertise in dry storage cask design, fuel handling, and site monitoring. Building on this operational experience and strong safety record, NRC expedited licensing and construction could circumvent some of the political and engineering obstacles that paralyzed the Yucca Mountain project. Finally, centralized dry storage preserves longer-term policy and engineering optionality, by serving as interim storage for some future permanent repository or as recycling locations for a closed fuel-cycle industry of the future.

    The Department of Energy has agreed to send the Acting Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy, John F. Kotek, to attend a June 22 meeting about the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), where he will be seeking opinions and input from residents, elected officials and community leaders on the long-term storage of nuclear waste, according to the office of Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA). The move comes in response to an April 5 letter from Issa to the DOE asking the department to hold an additional meeting in Southern California to discuss options for the nation’s plan to handle the long-term storage of nuclear waste. The Congressman encourages members of the public to attend the Songs Community Engagement Panel, taking place at 5:30 p.m. at the San Juan Capistrano Community Center, 25925 Camino Del Avion. “This is encouraging news for Southern Californians,” Issa said. “For many of us, especially those in the San Clemente area, the storage of nuclear waste at SONGS is really a major source of concern. Until we can either stop the obstruction of Yucca Mountain or find an interim solution, we’re going to be stuck with more than 3.6 million pounds of high-level nuclear waste stored in less-than-optimal conditions in a highly populated area. Now that SONGS is shut down, the spent nuclear fuel and other radioactive materials should be removed from the site as soon as possible. I’m pleased the Department of Energy will be sending a senior official to the 49th District to hear more from our local communities about the need to get a long-term storage facility opened as quickly as possible.”

    [Redacted] will soon start storing used fuel from its [Redacted] reactors in a new centralized ‘dry’ interim storage facility (ISF) at [Redacted]. The first phase of the facility was recently completed and the first [Redacted] fuel will shortly be delivered.
    The first phase of a centralized storage facility has been completed at [Redacted}. The initial stage of the facility – which was commissioned in December 2011 – will be used for storing 8129 tons of SNF [Redacted] fuel from the three power plants in the country from reactors. The used fuel from these plants is currently stored in on-site water-filled pools, but these are reaching full-capacity.
    Each special train with at [Redacted] site, is broken up, and four or six railcar-containers with fuel casks are hauled consecutively by the locomotive to DSF SNF. In the wintertime the railcars are warmed up in the neighboring building. Then the railcars are hauled for unloading into DSF SNF and the multi-step acceptance inspection of at [Redacted] is carried out including:
    – visual inspection of SNF cask [Redacted] to check for possible damages during transportation;
    – checking tightness of seals;
    – measurement of the temperature of air in compartments, inspection of cracks and level of the maximum dose rate of neutron- and gamma-radiation of radionuclides on cask surface.
    – gas pressure in intra-lid space. The system informs the operator about excess of the pressure in the intra-lid space beyond the established boundary values and the rate of gas pressure change.

  4. billhawkinns May 2, 2016 at 6:40 pm

    NRC has done an excellent job for Yucca Mountain on safety & security aspects and the other potential environment impacts on biosphere and groundwater. This experience should help NRC in approving applications for WCS, Holtec and others. NRC should contact me to determine what went wrong with San Onofre Replacement Generators.I am here to help Public, NRC & DOE 24/7.

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