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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

Nuclear waste in the oil patch? Feds spark clash with Texas

09/15/2021

By Edward Klump
E&E News/EnergyWire

A site in West Texas now has a federal license to store spent nuclear fuel, setting up a potential showdown with state leaders who oppose the prospect of attracting high-level radioactive waste from across the country.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced the license for Interim Storage Partners LLC to build and operate an interim storage facility in Andrews County, Texas, on Monday — just days after Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill seeking to restrict nuclear waste storage in the state.
Yesterday, Abbott tried to use the new license in the Permian Basin oil patch to hammer President Biden, though an application for the site was filed in 2016, and the Trump administration didn’t kill the project.

“The Biden Admin. is trying to dump highly radioactive nuclear waste in west Texas oil fields,” Abbott said on Twitter. “I just signed a law to stop it. Texas will not become America’s nuclear waste dumping ground.”

David McIntyre, an NRC spokesperson, declined to comment on the governor’s criticism but said in a statement this week that the “licensing decision was made according to the applicable federal statutes and regulations after thorough, multi-year technical and environmental reviews.”
The drama is being watched by the electricity sector, as nuclear power plants continue to store spent fuel on-site without a permanent U.S. repository. Yucca Mountain in Nevada has failed to garner enough sustained support to be an option (E&E Daily, July 22). In the meantime, backers of the Interim Storage Partners, or ISP, site in West Texas and a separate project in eastern New Mexico from Holtec International have pursued interim storage proposals that could last for decades.

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License Application of Interim Storage Partners LLC, Docket 72-1050

RE: License Application of Interim Storage Partners LLC, Docket 72-1050, and License Application of Holtec, Inc., Docket 72-1051, for a Consolidated Interim Storage Facilities

Both proposed projects are illegal under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act since no U.S. repository exists. Both would result in transport of radioactive waste through Texas. We ask that you deny both licenses. Bringing this nuclear reactor waste to Texas and New Mexico would result in dangerous de-facto permanent dumps.

Governor Abbott has expressed concerns about potential impacts to the Permian Basin, the world’s largest producing oilfield. Abbott said the region would become a “prime target for attacks by terrorists and saboteurs. This location could not be worse for storing ultra-hazardous radioactive waste… I urge the NRC to deny ISP’s license application.” Read Governor Abbotts letter.

Resolutions opposing consolidated interim storage were passed by five Texas counties and three cities, as well as by the Midland Chamber of Commerce. Collectively this represents the voices of 5.4 million Texans. Read the Dallas County resolution.

Additionally, Andrews County Commissioners voted unanimously on July 15, 2021, high-lets oppose high-level radioactive waste storage in their county, which would host the proposed ISP site.

Texans at the local, state and federal level do not consent to having our state become a nuclear waste dumping ground! Please prevent nuclear disasters that risk our health and safety and imperil our businesses and economy.

We urge the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to deny the license applications of ISP and Holtec International for Consolidated Interim Storage of high-level radioactive waste in Texas and New Mexico.

Nuclear waste project in southeast New Mexico delayed as feds demand answers

Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus

April 2, 2021

A project to store high-level nuclear waste in southeast New Mexico was delayed as the federal government sought more answers from the company proposing to build and operate the facility as to its potential risk to human life.

Holtec International proposed to build the consolidated interim storage facility (CISF) to temporarily hold spent nuclear fuel rods from generator sites across the country as a permanent repository was developed.

Permanent, offsite disposal for high-level waste does not exist in the U.S. after such a project at Yucca Mountain in Nevada was blocked by state lawmakers.

Holtect’s project is amidst a federal licensing process overseen by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) which released an environmental analysis last year that reported minimal impact was expected from the construction and operation of the CISF.

The initial license application was to store 8,680 metric tons (MT) of spent nuclear fuel under a 40-year term, and the company intended to file additional applications for up to 20 phases for a total of up to 100,000 MT of waste and 120 years of operation.

Following the environmental review, the NRC embarked on a review of the proposed facility’s safety and security and made numerous requests for additional information (RAIs) to Holtec in September 2020.

But in a March 25 letter to Holtec, the NRC informed the company that its responses to the RAIs submitted in October and November 2020 and again in January were inadequate and more requests were needed.

This would delay the project, the letter read, past the May 2021 deadline for completing the safety review.

NRC staff found Holtec’s responses related to soil impacts, flooding, aircraft crash hazards, some building designs and analyses of the site’s shielding, thermal and aging management were "unanswered or incomplete," the letter read.

"However, the schedule assumed that Holtec would provide timely and high-quality responses to all outstanding requests for additional information (RAIs) by November 2020, and that no follow-up RAIs would be necessary. If additional RAIs were necessary, the staff would revise its schedule accordingly," the letter read.

"Accordingly, the staff will not be able to complete its safety and security review and publish a final (safety evaluation report) in May 2021."

A second set of RAIs was planned to be sent to Holtec in the next month, read the letter, repeating the requests, providing details on the information still needed and setting a two-week deadline for responses.

The schedule for the final report would not be updated by the NRC, until Holtec responds to the inquiry.

In the letter, the NRC said it already held a clarification call with Holtec staff on the RAIs and intended to hold more meetings to ensure the agency’s questions are properly addressed.

"We expect to schedule additional calls over the next few weeks to discuss the remaining items," the letter read.

"In order to ensure your responses to the staff’s second RAI are complete and adequately resolve the remaining issues, the staff strongly recommends Holtec staff meet with NRC to discuss the proposed answers prior to their submission."

Holtec Director of Government Affairs Joe Delmar said the company planned to work closely with the federal government in answering the needed questions and displaying the safety of the facility and its nuclear waste storage system.

"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing process is rigorous, thorough and transparent to ensure the protection of public health and safety and the protection of the environment," Delmar said.

"Holtec remains committed to completing the NRC’s licensing process for HI-STORE CISF and remains equally committed to providing the country a supremely safe, secure, retrievable and centralized facility for storing spent nuclear fuel on an interim basis."

New Mexico State leaders voiced strong concerns for the project, opposing Holtec’s proposal for its potential to impact existing industries in southeast New Mexico such as oil and gas and agriculture.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called the project "economic malpractice" while State Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a lawsuit against the NRC to block the facility from being licensed.

Balderas argued federal law precluded the federal government from taking ownership of the waste while in transport to the Holtec site and thus project was illegal.

Last year, the NRC rejected multiple similar contentions from environmental and watchdog groups, arguing they were not admissible or the groups lacked standing to intervene in the licensing process as members did not reside within 50 miles of the facility.

The NRC dissented with arguments from the the Sierra Club, Beyond Nuclear and Fasken Land and Minerals that the Nuclear Waste Policy Act barred the U.S. Department of Energy from taking ownership of the waste.

Those groups displayed standing under the proximity standard.

The application, per the NRC’s decision, suggested Congress could change the federal law or nuclear plant owners could take ownership and be Holtec’s customers.

"The Board rejected the argument that the ‘mere mention of DOE renders Holtec’s license application unlawful.’ The Board observed that Holtec ‘is committed to going forward with the project’ by contracting directly with the plant owners," the decision read.

"The Board held that whether that option is ‘commercially viable’ was not an issue before the Board."

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, achedden@currentargus.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.

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