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D.C. Circuit Skeptical of Challenge to Texas Nuclear Waste Site

Daniel Moore, Bloomberg News
Nov. 10, 2022

A three-judge panel at the D.C. Circuit on Thursday sharply questioned arguments by environmental groups challenging a federal license of a privately owned interim nuclear waste storage facility in Texas.

Petitioners argued that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approval last year of Interim Storage Partners’ facility violates the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act because it includes language allowing a contract with the Energy Department. The case is the second legal challenge against the interim high-level waste facility licensed for Andrews County.

The provision is unlawful because the department, under that law, must select a permanent waste repository before siting a temporary facility, said Diane Curran, of counsel for Harmon Curran representing Beyond Nuclear.

“The only issue before this court is whether you should disregard the plain terms of the license condition, as suggested by the NRC, based on extraneous promises by the agency the fulfillment of the unlawful condition will never ever be carried out or allowed until Congress changes the law,” Curran said.

Hypothetical Development

But Judge Gregory Katsas of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit pointed out the license is focused on privately owned waste and that the DOE provision would be a hypothetical future development.

“There’s still the other language authorizing arrangements with privately-owned waste, and you have no argument against that,” Katsas said. “Why wouldn’t we, at most, just excise the offending language and sever the rest? There’s no reason why the provision can’t operate as related to privately owned waste.”

Judge David Tatel presented a scenario in which the license could stand if the court received assurances from the government that the unlawful provision will never be implemented.

Curran said severing the provision would be a helpful remedy, but government assurances were not.

Commission Opposition

The NRC asked the judges to reject the challenge.

“The licensee’s requirement is to provide a proof of contract, and if the contract that it relied on in order to satisfy the condition were illegal, the NRC would say no,” said Andrew Averbach, the NRC’s solicitor.

If there were any future contract between the facility with DOE, parties could then seek judicial recourse, Averbach added. But the central premise of this license will be storing spent fuel involving private entities, and reactor licensees will continue to hold title of ownership.

“We’re not talking about DOE taking title,” Averbach said. “We’re talking about private licenses doing something with the fuel that they currently have title to.”

Texas officials sued the NRC for approving the license over the state’s objections, arguing in part that the NRC overstepped its authority by licensing a facility before a permanent one is established. Judges held oral arguments in August in that case at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans.

The facility could hold 40,000 metric tons of spent fuel if all the phases of the project play out.

The case is Don’t Waste Michigan v. NRC, D.C. Cir., No. 21-1048, Oral argument 11/10/22

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To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Moore in Washington at dmoore1@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergindustry.com

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Japan says it has so far detected no abnormalities at nuclear power plants

March 16, 2022

Motoko Rich,
New York Times

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority inspected several nuclear power plants after a magnitude 7.3 earthquake hit late Wednesday night off the coast of Fukushima, the site of a nuclear meltdown in 2011.

As of 1 a.m. Thursday, the authority said that it had not detected any abnormalities at plants in Fukushima; in Onagawa in Miyagi Prefecture; or in Tokai in Ibaraki Prefecture.

Tokyo Electric Power Company said that a fire alarm was still sounding in one of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, where the 2011 meltdown occurred. The plant has been shut down and undergoing an enormous cleanup since the disaster 11 years ago.

Water pumps for spent fuel cooling pools at a separate power plant in Fukushima were down early Thursday, but Tokyo Electric said there was still water in the pools for now, and that one pump had returned to operation before 2 a.m., according to NHK, the public broadcaster.

The quake left millions of Japanese without power, but Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that Tokyo Electric was expected to be able to quickly restore service.

Oil companies join fight against US nuclear waste facilities

Beaumont Enterprise
March 11, 2022

CARLSBAD, N.M. (AP) — Oil companies operating in the most active oilfield in the United States are the latest opponents of plans to store spent nuclear fuel from commercial power plants in the Permian Basin.

Federal regulators already have granted a license for one interim storage project in West Texas, and developers are awaiting approval for a similar facility in southeastern New Mexico.

Tommy Taylor, chairman of the Permian Basin Coalition, said in a recent statement that rising gas prices and global tensions involving Russia — one of the world’s largest oil producers — should be a concern.

“Gas prices are soaring and families are struggling to pay bills,” Taylor said. “Yet the federal government wants to keep America’s energy producers on the sidelines by keeping oil and gas production low, and to make matters worse, they are putting America and our allies at risk by proposing to store high-level nuclear waste in America’s most productive oil field.”

The coalition has called on Congress to include language to block the storage projects in the federal omnibus spending package, the Carlsbad Current-Argus reported.

The coalition’s members include Shell Oil Company, the Texas Oil and Gas Association and dozens of Texas cities, counties and chambers of commerce.

The Nuclear Regulator Commission recently granted a license to Waste Control Specialists for a storage facility in Andrews, Texas. They’re still considering an application by Holtec International for a similar facility just to the west of the state line in New Mexico.

Both facilities would see thousands of metric tons of spent fuel shipped into Texas and New Mexico from nuclear power plants around the country for temporary storage pending development of a permanent repository.

Critics, including top elected officials from Texas and New Mexico, have voiced concerns because the federal government lacks any plans for a permanent resting place for the radioactive waste.

U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Ted Cruz of Texas recently introduced legislation aimed at banning federal funding from supporting such a site.
Dozens of environmental groups and nuclear watchdogs also have outlined their concerns about the projects in comments to the U.S. Energy Department.

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Spent fuel facility receives NRC license days after Texas moves to ban it

Sep 14, 2021

Nuclear Newswire

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a license to Interim Storage Partners (ISP), a joint venture of Waste Control Specialists and Orano USA, to construct and operate a consolidated interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel in Andrews, Texas. Issued on September 13, the license comes just four days after Texas governor Greg Abbott signed a bill to block such a facility from being built in the state.

The license is the second one issued by the NRC for a consolidated storage facility for spent nuclear fuel. The first was issued to Private Fuel Storage in 2006, but the facility was never constructed. The NRC is currently reviewing an application from Holtec International for a similar facility proposed for Lea County, New Mexico. A decision on that application is currently expected in January 2022.

The ISP facility: ISP intends to build the storage facility on property adjacent to Waste Control Specialists’ low-level radioactive waste disposal site already operating under a Texas license. The NRC license authorizes ISP to receive, possess, transfer, and store up to 5,000 metric tons of spent fuel and 231.3 metric tons of greater-than-Class C low-level radioactive waste for 40 years.

The company has said that it plans to expand the facility in seven additional phases, up to a total capacity of 40,000 metric tons of fuel. Each expansion would require a license amendment, with additional NRC safety and environmental reviews.

The licensing: ISP submitted a revised license application to the NRC in July 2018. Waste Control Specialists had previously submitted an application for an interim storage facility in conjunction with Areva and NAC International but withdrew that application in 2017.

Read more on Nuclear Newswire

A private company got federal approval to store nuclear waste in Texas. The state is fighting back.

September 15, 2001

Douglas MacMillan and Aaron Gregg
Washington Post

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approval of the planned facility opens a new front in a decades-long battle to find a home for the country’s nuclear waste

A private company has won federal approval to build an expansive nuclear waste site in Texas, even as residents, state lawmakers, environmentalists and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) rail against it.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on Monday issued a license for Andrews, Tex.-based Interim Storage Partners to store as much as 5,000 metric tons of radioactive waste. It’s one of two proposed storage sites — the other is in southeastern New Mexico — that has been under agency review for several years.

The approval opens a new front in a decades-long battle to find a home for 85,000 tons of nuclear waste accumulating at dozens of nuclear power plants across the country. Fears about the dangers of nuclear material, which scientists say remains hazardous to humans for many years, have stifled plans to build repositories, including a proposed waste dump in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain that was shelved by President Barack Obama.

Such concerns are fueling the opposition in Texas, where environmental activists have forged a rare alliance with oil interests and powerful state Republicans to prevent the site from moving forward. They worry that transporting and storing “high-level” nuclear waste, including contaminated fuel rods, exposes the state to the threat of a radiological incident or potential for groundwater contamination.

“Our concern is that the waste will sit there, the cement around it will crack, leaks will develop, and radioactive contamination will result,” said Karen Hadden, the executive director of the SEED Coalition, an Austin-based advocacy group.

In a direct challenge to federal regulators, Abbott signed legislation last week preventing federally approved waste facilities from obtaining local construction and wastewater permits. The governor has framed the license as an unwelcome incursion by the Biden administration, which he accused of “trying to dump highly radioactive nuclear waste” in Texas oil fields.

Read more at Washington Post site