The Nuclear Regulatory Commission grants license to facility just across the Texas state line near Eunice; opposition from both states sure to follow
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced Monday it has issued a license for spent nuclear fuel storage in Andrews County, Texas.
Interim Storage Partners (ISP), a joint venture of Waste Control Specialists LLC (WCS) and Orano USA, intends to construct the storage facility on property adjacent to the WCS low-level radioactive waste disposal site already operating just east of the Texas-New Mexico state line.
The spent nuclear fuel would come from the nation’s more than 70 commercial nuclear power plants.
Issuance of the license to ISP encouraged Carlsbad’s John Heaton, chairman of the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance (ELEA). ELEA is working with Holtec International, which also applied for a license to store the highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel on ELEA property in western Lea County.
“From the perspective of having a specific license, I congratulate them (ISP) for getting that license,” Heaton said.
Meanwhile, Eunice Mayor Billy Hobbs took the news stoically.
“It’s tough when it’s in your back yard,” Hobbs said. “Hopefully, we can work with them and keep everybody safe. It’s out of our hands. People express their opinions, but … it still comes down to the federal government. They kind of do what they want to do.”
The license authorizes the company 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, according to an NRC news release.
The company has said 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.
Issuance of the license seems to contradict opponents’ argument that the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 prevents issuance of a license, Heaton told the News-Sun.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, filing the lawsuit against the NRC and the United States of America earlier this year, said the NRC has no authority to issue licenses for consolidated interim storage facilities. Therefore, the state’s suit not only was intended to stop Holtec’s proposed Lea County project, but also the ISP project in Andrews County.
“The point is that the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act refers to the federal government. It doesn’t refer to private operations,” Heaton said, noting the ISP’s license is actually the second license for a consolidated interim storage facility the NRC has issued, the first being in 2006 to the now-defunct Private Fuel Storage, a conglomerate of electric companies.
The first license was cancelled in 2012 after the planned facility was never constructed due to multiple private and government agency roadblocks.
“(Monday’s announcement of the ISP license) gives me a significant amount of optimism that we also will get a license, probably sometime after the first of the year,” Heaton said. “That remains to be seen, but I would hope that this is an indication that we would be considered for a license as well.”
‘It’s tough when it’s in your back yard. Hopefully, we can work with them and keep everybody safe. It’s out of our hands. … it still comes down to the federal government. They kind of do what they want to do.’
—Billy Hobbs, Eunice mayor
An NRC news release states the Holtec decision likely will come in January.
The spent fuel and waste must be stored in canisters and cask systems. The canisters and cask systems must meet NRC standards for protection against leakage, radiation dose rates, and criticality, under normal and accident conditions. The canisters are required to be sealed when they arrive at the facility, and remain sealed during onsite handling and storage activities.
The NRC staff’s review of the license application included a technical safety and security review, an environmental impact review and adjudication before an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board.
A safety evaluation report, documenting the technical review, is being issued along with the license.
The NRC published a final environmental impact statement in July. The environmental study included extensive public input during its development and during the comment phase. The adjudication resolved contentions filed by several local and national petitioners.
The NRC’s announcement Monday came days after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation to ban high-level nuclear waste from the state of Texas. State Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, authored legislation in response to ISP’s effort to obtain the NRC license.
In a statement published by the Midland Star-Telegram after the NRC’s announcement, Landgraf said, “The Biden administration, through the NRC, would cause a violation of Texas law if their license results in the storage or disposal of spent nuclear fuel or any other high-level radioactive waste. I expect that the State of Texas will deploy our available resources to enforce our laws.”
Heaton, the ELEA chairman, reflected, “It’s unfortunate for them that the State of Texas seems to be opposing their project.”