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.

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

19 thoughts on “WCS Sends NRC Interim Storage Application”

  1. 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.

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  4. The level of dishonesty of anti-nuclear activists is truly breathtaking.  It takes an amazing level of gall to refer directly to words that say something else, and come up with this:

    You also know Dr. Singh, Holtec CEO, states it’s not possible or feasible to repair the canisters and even a microscopic through wall crack will release millions of curies of radiation into the environment.

    It’s fascinating and astonishing how you abuse your cherry-picked 118-second video clip, because Singh actually says “in the most unlikely circumstance that a canister were to develop a leak, let’s be realistic, you have to find it, the crack, where it might be, and then find a means to repair it… in the face of millions of curies of radioactivity coming out of the canister” (he means radionuclides INSIDE the canister, almost all of it still inside Zircaloy-clad fuel rods, with only gamma rays able to penetrate the steel).

    Singh continues “we think it’s not all that (unintelligible), HOWEVER, I think that we you can easily isolate that canister in a cask that keeps it cool, and basically provide it with a next confinement around, not relying on the canister.” (emphasis added)  In other words, no big deal.

    At the low maximum temperatures that aged spent fuel can reach, the only isotopes able to escape are gaseous or have extremely low boiling points.  That’s pretty much just krypton, xenon and iodine.  Iodine, of which I-129 is the only radioisotope remaining after a few years.  I-129’s half-life of 15.7 million years makes it such a weak source of radiation (only about 1/50000 chance of decaying during a human lifetime, otherwise behaving just like natural iodine) that it is harmless except in truly massive doses.

    Now, do you care to explain what might possibly cause a crack in a thick cask of stainless steel, sitting inside a heavy reinforced-concrete “overpack”?  Magic?  Public feelings of unease acting at a distance, perhaps?  You could help prevent the latter by ceasing to spread FUD.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 7:16 PM (20 hours ago)

    Yucca Mountain Repository – A Marvelous Engineering Design for San Onofre’s Unwelcome Waste

    It is common sense, and sound science, to site and build a nuclear waste repository to isolate radioactive waste as completely as possible from the human environment for the hazardous lifetime of the waste. DOE’s studies/tests supported by hundreds of scientists and 30 years research demonstrates that Yucca Mountain’s engineered and natural barriers are capable of isolating radioactive waste from the environment for 3.5 Million Years. The geology of Yucca Mountain, volcanic tuff, is expected to provide an adequate barrier in the long term. U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) assessments ensure that the engineered barriers, notably the Alloy 22 metal Waste Packages, even without the Drip Shields will provide adequate containment. Like other metals in an oxidizing environment, Alloy 22 Waste Packages would corrode negligibly under conditions of moisture and temperature repository would experience in the performance period of 1,000,000 years. DOE’s models of Waste Packages performance are based on relatively established scientific data and contains large factors of safety.

    SCE Unlicensed & Defectively Designed/Operated San Onofre Replacement Steam Generators
    SCE’s licensed California Professional Engineers designed the RSGs in violation of both Federal and State Regulations. It was done without a NRC 50.90 License Amendment, inadequate industry benchmarking, academic research, understanding of the OSGs tube supports design to prevent in-plane FEI, any thermal-hydraulic and tube-wear/vibration analyses between the OSGs and RSGs. SCE Management pushed MHI to rush the fabrication of the RSGs in order to meet SCEs strict timeline, design and cost (SCE/MHI Meeting Notes). This rush to get the RSGs installed ASAP (to maximize SCE’s profit, ended up destroying the new RSGs as well as compromising the safety of everyone living in southern California).

  8. go for it nothing to loose in view of Yucca Mountain being rejected by Nevada NRC did a great job in reviewing DOE Application Where was NRC at the time of San Onofre RSGs Depends upon which Engineer was reviewing the information and how much information he had SCE provided zero information to NRC and SCE was guessing all the time So was MHI I only know the truth which will come out very soon even SCE refuses to release data and NRC is not cooperating due to pressure by Pete and Tom/Ted

  9. This is an important step toward securing the nation’s stranded nuclear waste. An interim storage location before a final depository is essential now that the requirements for high burn up fuel placed in dry storage must remain above ground for 60 or more years before they can go to a final depository. The consolidated interim storage facility must include military protection against terrorist to enforce a no fly zone including drones. The land use must be guaranteed for 100 years. The private company running the facility must be under review by a team of NRC and state and local stakeholders with a 20 year renewable contract.

  10. Maureen, I respectfully disagree. This interim storage application would be totally unnecessary if our government & a couple of its agencies had dealt responsibly with the safe permanent storage of spent fuel in the first place decades ago!

  11. We would like to keep this blog post and discussions about it focused on the interim storage license application we received April 28. There have been several questions and comments about the Yucca Mountain repository program. Our most recent blog post discussing the NRC’s role in that program, which links to a detailed backgrounder on licensing Yucca Mountain, can be found here: https://public-blog.nrc-gateway.gov/2015/01/29/the-yucca-mountain-safety-evaluation-report-one-step-of-a-long-journey/

    NRC Moderator
    Maureen Conley

  12. I note that you didn’t respond to the comment regarding the incomplete second sentence of the paragraph. That sentence should state: “Congress made DOE responsible for taking spent fuel from commercial reactors to a repository.”

  13. You are correct that the 1987 amendments nullified DOE’s proposal to build a spent fuel storage facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The same section of that law authorized the Secretary of Energy to build and operate an MRS for interim storage. It created a commission to look at the need for an MRS, and the Office of the Nuclear Waste Negotiator to broker a deal with a community that would volunteer to host an MRS. DOE provided funding for feasibility grants that allowed communities to explore whether they might want to host an MRS. The Skull Valley Band of Goshutes was in talks with the Negotiator’s Office when that office closed in February 1995 (the 1987 law included a “sunset” date for its closure). The Goshutes subsequently struck a deal with Private Fuel Storage for the facility the NRC licensed in 2006.

    While PFS was licensed to operate without DOE involvement, Congress has not changed federal policy for interim storage as laid out in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.

    Maureen Conley

  14. What was the fate of “Yucca Mountain”? I thought that was to be the final storage for Dry Casks, or am I mistaken

  15. Mark Lombard states inspecting canisters for corrosion and cracks “is not a now thing”, so your claim of “30 years safe storage” assumes the canisters have no cracks, but you have no evidence. You need to stop misleading everyone about this. You know rhe Koeberg plant had a similar component leak in 17 years with cracks deeper than these thin canisters. You know a 2 year old Diablo Canyon canister has all the conditions for cracking, but you have no way to know whether it has started to crack.

    You also know Dr. Singh, Holtec CEO, states it’s not possible or feasible to repair the canisters and even a microscopic through wall crack will release millions of curies of radiation into the environment.

  16. “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.”

    Why is WCS filing an application when the Utah company EnergySolutions is the owner?

    Nuclear Waste Firms Complete $270m Acquisition in US
    Salt Lake City, Utah based nuclear waste processing, transporting and recycling firm, EnergySolutions, Inc. has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Dallas based Waste Control Specialists which operates a 1338 acre radioactive waste disposal facility in Texas that features a 7 ft thick, steel-reinforced concrete liner system.
    https://waste-management-world.com/a/nuclear-waste-firms-complete-270m-acquisition-in-us

  17. You don’t say NRC. It has only taken 34 years to get to this point & how many more years will it take you to do the right thing & even start taking this dangerous crap out of our backyards. Now you aim to put it right in the backyard of Texas & New Mexico. You could not get Nevada to cooperate on the Yucca mountain underground permanent site & you & DOE screwed around for decades doing it all at tremendous cost to us tax & rate-payers. Good luck with dealing with other states & private entities. Should have long ago done what Captain D recommended & put it on a remote, desolate, already-environmentally-screwed-up military reservation. Will you never learn!!

  18. What is wrong with Yucca Mtn. deep waste storage facility, other than Harry Reid! DOE has been collecting money from commercial reactors for many decades! How is that going to set with the rate payers. I would not trust Texas communities to agree with the proposal.(Verbiage here removed by NRC moderator to adhere to blog comment guidelines.)

  19. One paragraph is incomplete and misleading. It states: “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.”

    While the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act did authorize DOE to find a Monitored Retrievable Storage (MRS) site, the 1987 amendment nullified the DOE’s site at Oak Ridge, TN. Since that time, DOE has not pursued such siting. Instead, nuclear utilities formed Private Fuel Storage (PFS) and NRC licensed that site for storage in February 2006, but it has never operated. Under the law, DOE is NOT responsible for the private storage facilities, such as PRS, WCS, or the forthcoming Holtec application.
    The second sentence also is misleading, as it should state “Congress made DOE responsible for taking spent fuel from commercial reactors to a repository.”

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