Draft EIS is created for spent fuel storage application at WCS site in Andrews County

By Sam Kaufman

May 10, 2020 – Andrews County News

A federal agency reviewing an application for spent fuel storage at Waste Control Specialists’ site provided a preliminary recommendation this week to issue the license and issued a draft environmental impact statement for public review and comment.

Interim Storage Partners, a joint venture between WCS and Orano USA, submitted a revised license application in June 2018 to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct and operate a consolidated interim storage facility here.

The CISF would store spent nuclear fuel and reactor-related Greater Than Class C waste, along with a small quantity of mixed oxide fuel, at WCS’ site in far west Andrews County.

The NRC has reviewed the application and prepared a draft EIS, which describes the impacts that could result from construction, operation and decommissioning of the CISF.

“It also details the cumulative impacts from other activities in the area and alternatives evaluated,” federal officials said. “This document summarizes the NRC’s environmental impact analysis that has been published in draft form for public review and comment.”

WCS Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Communication Elicia Sanchez said Friday the draft EIS is an expected “part of the review process.” Sanchez also said ISP is pleased with the federal agency’s preliminary recommendation of license issuance, though there is still a long way to go in the process.

“We’re very confident in the environmental and safety aspects of the license,” she noted. “There is a still a long way to go and we’ll do all this as we work with Andrews and the state of Texas.”

The draft EIS public review and comment period typically lasts 60 days, but with the virus pandemic, it has been extended to a 120-day draft period, according to Sanchez.

“They’ll have some public meetings—one in Hobbs and one in Andrews, like before—and a couple at the NRC headquarters in Washington DC,” Sanchez explained.

A group called Holtec International submitted a similar application to the NRC to store spent fuel in New Mexico near the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant site by Carlsbad. The NRC last month provided a preliminary recommendation for licensing there as well, along with issuing a draft EIS.

Sanchez said the NRC’s original schedule estimated possible issuance of a final EIS and safety report in May of 2021.

“Sometime after that, they would issue the license or give the okay to issue the license,” she explained of the NRC’s timeline. “We’re just taking everything a day at a time. It’s still a long process, but we’re pleased with the initial recommendation from the NRC.”

Interim Storage Partner’s proposed CISF would provide an option for storing spent fuel from nuclear reactors for 40 years, according to the NRC, and ISP has requested to store up to 5,000 metric tons of uranium.

ISP also plans to subsequently request license amendments, that if approved, would authorize an additional 5,000 MTUs for each of seven expansion phases of the proposed CISF that would allow facility expansion to store 40,000 MTUs over 20 years, the NRC stated.

For the proposed action, ISP is proposing to store spent fuel in six fuelpurpose canister-based dry cask storage systems licensed by TN Americas or NAC International, which currently are used to store spent fuel.

The spent fuel storage site would be situated on approximately 320 acres of land within an approximately 14,000-acre parcel of land controlled by WCS.

“It would be situated north of WCS’ existing waste management facilities and on land controlled by ISP through a long-term lease from WSF,” NRC representatives noted.

The CISF is located approximately 1.25 miles north of State High 176 and just east of the Texas/ New Mexico state line.

The NRC previously received public scoping comments that included concerns of “what are the impacts on local groundwater, how will transportation of spent fuel be addressed, will the project disproportionately impact minority populations and how will the site impact public health,” according to the NRC.

The draft EIS addresses concerns from scoping comments, they added, including that exploratory boreholes installed near the proposed CISF site did not encounter groundwater in the Ogallala Aquifer.

“Additionally, the Ogallala Aquifer does not underlie the proposed CISF site and is not hydraulically connected to groundwater or aquifers beneath the proposed project area,” the draft EIS states. “The nearest Ogallala Aquifer boundary is located at distances between nine and 12 miles from the proposed CISF project area near Monument Draw, Texas.”

Concerning transportation, the draft EIS notes that impacts from transportation accidents to both workers and the public were evaluated. All spent fuel proposed to be transported to and from the CISF would be shipped in canisters that are placed in NRC-certified transportation casks.

In its most recent analysis, the NRC staff concluded there is “no accidental release of canistered fuel during transportation under the most severe impacts studies, which encompassed all historic or realistic accidents, including fire and impacted force to the casks.”

Socioeconomic impacts from the CISF are primarily associated with new businesses that could be generated, workers who might move into the area and tax revenues that the proposed project would generate, it adds.

WCS has said interim storage could help provide a temporary solution for the longtime dilemma of locating a site for nuclear waste now being stored at shut down reactor areas throughout the country.

The NRC has said it supports a solution for the waste.

“They feel it is a needed facility, whether it is WCS or other companies providing interim storage,” Sanchez has said. “There is a lot of material in need of a consolidated home instead of it being spread over the U.S. They agree it’s a problem that needs to be fixed.”

In the past, the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada had been heavily researched as a permanent repository for spent fuel, but that location was taken off the table during the Obama presidential era.

Plans of reviving Yucca Mountain have been discussed and the possibility of interim temporary storage at privately-owned facilities has also entered the equation.