Energy Secretary Ernie Moniz told a Bipartisan Policy Center gathering on March 24 he is “very encouraged” that a company wants to develop a facility in Texas for interim storage of spent nuclear fuel.
Valhi (NYSE:VHI) subsidiary Waste Control Specialists (WCS) said in February that it plans to seek a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) license for interim storage of used nuclear fuel in Andrews County, Texas.
Moniz said he was encouraged by the firm’s announcement and by “elements of the state political establishment,” which support it. Moniz served as a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future prior to becoming President Obama’s energy secretary.
Today DOE is serious about using a “consent-based” approach to finding interim and more permanent storage sites for both civilian and Defense Department spent fuel, Moniz said.
WCS wants to build an interim storage facility in stages and expects to file a final license application in 2016. “We will take a hard look at it,” Moniz said. The energy secretary agreed with an earlier statement by WCS that congressional action would be needed for DOE to pay a private entity for storing spent fuel.
The department is anxious to start “having a dialogue” with communities interested in hosting a spent fuel facility. “We have no communities in mind,” (other than the private project in Texas, which made a public announcement) Moniz said. “It is going to be an open process.”
While DOE is interested in geologic storage, Moniz repeated the DOE position that the proposed Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada is “not workable.”
DOE does need some type of interim dry cask storage to handle spent fuel, Moniz said. DOE is already paying billions of dollars in damages for its failure to take possession of spent fuel from nuclear power plants.
“We are paying significant settlements,” Moniz said.
DOE has proposed starting with development of a pilot interim storage facility that could accept spent fuel from shutdown reactors. Although the construction of an interim storage facility requires new authority, DOE will soon initiate a consent-based siting process, Moniz said.
A spent fuel solution is needed because nuclear power accounts “for more than 60% of carbon free energy in the United States,” Moniz said.
At present there are 12 retired units where spent fuel is one of the last steps for the site being cleared for other purposes, Moniz said.
“What we really want to do now is move the process forward” with consent-based storage,” Moniz said.
DOE could move faster on military spent fuel
President Obama has just authorized DOE to begin the process of developing a repository to be used for disposal of some DOE-managed high-level radioactive waste.
As a next step, DOE will work to develop a consent-based process that can be used to support both sets of activities – the development of a defense waste repository and initial work to support the development of interim storage for commercial spent nuclear fuel.
In 1985, a decision was made to dispose of defense and commercial nuclear waste in a dual-purpose repository. Since that time, important circumstances have changed, Moniz said.
In 1985, the production of new nuclear weapons was expected to continue to grow alongside the increasing inventory of civilian waste. Today, however, the U.S. is no longer generating defense high-level waste associated with weapons production. The inventory of defense high-level waste is therefore finite and known. By contrast, the amount of commercial spent fuel continues to grow, Moniz said.
Some defense waste is also less radioactive, cooler, and easier to handle than commercial spent fuel. This means that a defense repository for these wastes could have a simpler design and could present fewer licensing and transportation challenges, Moniz said.
The Moniz speech from Washington, D.C. was webcast via the BPC website.