Nuclear waste project in southeast New Mexico delayed as feds demand answers » Albuquerque Journal
A high-level radioactive waste disposal project in southeastern New Mexico was delayed as the federal government sought more responses from the company, which suggested building and operating the facility in terms of its potential risk to human life.
Holtec International proposed building the consolidated interim storage facility (CISF) to temporarily hold spent fuel rods from generator sites across the country as a permanent repository was being developed.
There is no permanent external disposal of high-grade waste in the USA after such a project on Yucca Mountain in Nevada was blocked by state lawmakers.
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Holtect’s project is in the midst of a federal licensing process overseen by the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). An environmental analysis was published last year that reported that the construction and operation of the CISF were expected to have minimal impact.
The original license application was to store 8,680 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel under 40 years of life, and the company intended to submit additional applications for up to 20 phases for a total of up to 100,000 tonnes of waste and 120 years of operation.
After the environmental review, the NRC began a safety review of the proposed facility and requested a lot of additional information (RAIs) from Holtec in September 2020.
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However, 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 further inquiries were required.
This would delay the project, the letter said, after the May 2021 deadline for completing the security clearance.
The NRC staff found that Holtec’s responses to ground impacts, flooding, plane crash hazards, some building designs and analyzes of the site’s shielding, heat and aging management were “unanswered or incomplete,” the letter said.
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“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 further RAIs would be required. If additional RAIs were required, employees would revise their schedule accordingly, ”the letter said.
“Accordingly, staff will not be able to complete their safety review and issue a final (safety assessment report) in May 2021.”
It was planned to send a second set of RAIs to Holtec in the next month, read the letter, repeat the inquiries, provide details of the information that was still needed, and set a two-week period in which to respond.
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The NRC will not update the schedule for the final report until Holtec responds to the request.
In the letter, the NRC stated that it had already carried out a clarification visit with Holtec staff on the RAIs and intended to hold further meetings to ensure that the agency’s questions are properly answered.
“We assume that we will plan further calls in the next few weeks to discuss the remaining points,” said the letter.
“To ensure that your responses to the staff’s second RAI are complete and adequately address remaining issues, the staff strongly encourage Holtec staff to meet with NRC to discuss suggested responses prior to submission.”
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Joe Delmar, director of government affairs at Holtec, said the company plans to work closely with the federal government to answer the necessary questions and demonstrate the safety of the facility and its nuclear waste storage system.
“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approval process is rigorous, thorough and transparent to ensure public health and safety and the environment,” said Delmar.
“Holtec remains committed to completing the NRC’s licensing process for HI-STORE CISF and is committed to providing the country with a highly secure, retrievable and centralized facility for the temporary storage of spent fuel.”
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New Mexico leaders expressed serious concern about the project and rejected Holtec’s proposal to affect potential industries in southeast New Mexico such as oil and gas and agriculture.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham called the project “economic misconduct,” while Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a lawsuit against the NRC to block the facility’s licensing.
Balderas argued that federal law prevented the federal government from taking ownership of the waste while it was being transported to the Holtec site, and that the project was therefore illegal.
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Last year, the NRC denied several similar objections from environmental and monitoring groups, arguing that they were not allowed or that the groups were not allowed to interfere in the licensing process because members were not within 50 miles of the facility.
The NRC contradicted the arguments put forward by the Sierra Club, Beyond Nuclear, and Fasken Land and Minerals that the Nuclear Waste Act prevented the US Department of Energy from taking ownership of the waste.
These groups were under the proximity standard.
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The motion proposed, according to the NRC’s decision, that Congress could amend federal law or that nuclear power 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 illegal. The board found that Holtec is “committed to moving the project forward” by entering into a contract directly with the plant owners, “the decision said.
“The board decided that prior to the board it was not an issue whether this option was ‘commercially viable’.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected], or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Carlsbad Current-Argus: Southeast New Mexico Nuclear Waste Project Delayed As Government Requests Answers
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