10/31/2016

Sonal Patel
POWER Magazine

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a request for information to assess the future role of private consolidated interim storage facilities in the agency’s plans for an integrated nuclear waste management system.

The DOE noted in an October 27 notice published in the Federal Register that since it unveiled a strategy for the management and disposal of the nation’s spent nuclear fuel in January 2013, it has become aware of a number of private initiatives that have been established and could provide the DOE or utilities with interim storage facilities.

"[Private initiatives], although were not envisioned in the Administration’s Strategy, represent a potentially promising alternative to federal facilities for consolidated interim storage," the agency said.

The request for information seeks input on questions such as how private initiatives, as part of an overall integrated nuclear waste management system, would provide a "workable solution" for interim storage of spent nuclear waste and high-level waste.

It also questions what benefits or drawbacks such initiatives offer, compared to a federally financed capital project for a government-owned contractor-operated interim storage facility, which business models those initiatives would pursue, and how they would manage liabilities during the storage period.

The DOE’s request comes days after Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told attendees at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event that inaction on spent fuel management posed a "significant headwind for many decisions in the nuclear space."

The DOE’s planned integrated waste management system will include transportation, storage, and disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. It may include (among other elements) pilot interim storage facilities, initially focused on accepting spent nuclear fuel from shutdown reactor sites. It may also include full-scale, consolidated interim storage facilities that provide greater capacity and flexibility within the waste management system.

The DOE’s January 2013–released strategy document proposes a pilot facility for consolidated storage by 2021. That facility is to be followed by a larger storage facility by 2025, and then by a geologic repository for final disposition of used nuclear fuel by 2048.

At least two private sector players have proposed interim storage solutions to date. In April 2016, Waste Control Specialists LLC, with support from AREVA, submitted a license application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a consolidated interim storage facility in Andrews County, Texas.

Holtec International is also gearing up to submit safety documentation to the federal nuclear agency for a proposed consolidated interim storage facility in Southeast New Mexico.

Opposition to the Andrews County nuclear waste storage site, at least, is already mounting. On October 27, antinuclear groups Beyond Nuclear and Nuclear Information and Resource Service, citizen group Public Citizen, and environmental group SEED Coalition, called on the NRC to terminate its review of the license application.

"The groups are concerned that the ‘interim’ storage facility may become the de facto permanent home for the highly toxic waste," the groups said in a joint statement. "Given the long battle over Yucca Mountain, the groups have zero confidence that Congress or federal regulators would have the stomach for fighting to move the nuclear waste a second time from WCS or any other ‘interim’ site. And, with utilities totally off the hook and taxpayers footing the entire bill, those that generated the waste would have no incentive to ensure its safe disposal in a permanent geologic repository."

—Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)

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