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WCS pushing ahead with spend nuclear fuel site

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Levi Hill

News-Sun

Waste Control Specialists may be ahead of Lea and Eddy counties in landing a long-term storage facility for spent nuclear fuel, but there could be room for both projects.
That was the word from WCS Communications Director Chuck McDonald this week as he touted the latest developments in WCS’s attempts to land a spent fuel storage facility at the company’s facility just five miles east of Eunice in Andrews County, Texas.

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“I suspect there is and I suspect they (the NRC) would approve a second (site) if they approved one,” McDonald said when asked if there is room for both the WCS proposed facility and the one Eddy and Lea County are partnering with nuclear storage container manufacturer Holtec to present to the NRC.
In fact, WCS may be helping pave the way for Eddy/Lea, after submitting a 3,000-page document to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in April and getting notice this week that even more documentation is needed.
“It is going to be a long process, but progress is being made,” McDonald said, adding that the request for more information does not denote any errors with WCS’s initial application, only a request from the NRC for information in several areas including; the environmental report, physical security and safety analysis.
As such, McDonald said WCS is asking the NRC to begin the environmental review of the WCS site now, a process that could take at least 18 months.
WCS sent a letter to the NRC this week asking the environmental process begin so stakeholder meetings with the public in Lea and Andrews counties can begin.
“WCS requests that the NRC initiate the actions needed to conduct the environmental review for the CISF as soon as practicable in light of expected public and stakeholder interest in this licensing action and the expected length of the environmental review process,” the letter reads. “Doing so will allow the NRC to conduct a timely and thorough NEPA review of the proposed action without adversely affecting the NRC’s overall review of the project, including the thoroughness of its safety review under the Atomic Energy Act.”
McDonald said the overall process before WCS could be licensed to build a facility may be at least three years and the company has set a timeline to begin accepting waste by 2021.
However, with thousands of tons of spent fuel piled up around the nation at some 100 nuclear power plants, WCS will not be getting all the spent fuel, at least not at first.
“We are applying to take 40,000 metric tons of spent fuel in 5,000-ton phases and there are eight planned phases to the project,” McDonald said. “Phase 1 is only proposing to take from 12 permanently decommissioned sites, every container at those sites has been reviewed and licensed.”
This is not an overnight process, he added.
“It will take a decade, at minimum, to get through phase one and it is going to take us five years to get there,” he said. “So the short term — the next 15 years — is a pretty known universe.”
The site could store the material for at least 40 years, depending on how the NRC licenses the facility.
McDonald said the projects like WCS’s proposed facility are needed and were recommended in 2008 by the presidents Blue Ribbon Commission because of mounting costs to the federal government as it pays nuclear companies around the country “fines” for having to store the material on site.
McDonald said the federal government promised a consolidated storage site would be built by 1998, or a solution to the mounting tons of spent fuel. However, that didn’t happen and the utility companies sued the federal government and won — winning the right to pass the storage cost of that fuel on to the federal government, a bill that amounts to some $500 million a year in taxpayer dollars.
The funds should be coming from a federally created disposal fund that is fed from a tax on the utility companies, but that is not happening, McDonald said.
Funding for a facility like WCS’s or the Eddy/Lea site would come from interest generated off the $1 billion disposal fund.
It remains to be seen if the NRC will move forward with the environmental review of the WCS site and the Eddy/Lea/Holtec partnership has not yet submitted its application for the 1,000-acre site located in Lea County near the Eddy County line west of Hobbs.

Levi Hill can be reached at 391-5438 or by email.

Burkett Shaw
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