Holtec plans underground interim storage site for nuclear waste in New Mexico

Holtec International has reached a memorandum of agreement with Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance (ELEA), LLC, to develop a “consent-based” interim used nuclear fuel storage facility in southeastern New Mexico.

The Eddy-LEA Alliance is a company owned by New Mexico’s Eddy and Lea counties and the cities of Carlsbad and Hobbs—to establish a facility to store commercial used nuclear fuel until a geologic repository for permanent disposal becomes available.

The April 30 announcement by Holtec comes only a few months after a similar proposal by Waste Control Specialists in nearby west Texas. The Holtec-ELEA facility would be built just 12 miles from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).

WIPP disposes of the nation’s defense-related transuranic radioactive waste. It started operating in 1999. WIPP is run through the Department of Energy (DOE).

The state has long been mentioned, by retired Republican Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico, has a potential site for interim nuclear waste storage under a permanent national facility is located in Yucca Mountain, Nev., or elsewhere.

Holtec and ELEA officials said during a recent news conference in New Mexico that they have met with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) and others about setting developing an interim storage site.

“We don’t enter into this lightly,” Hobbs Mayor Sam Cobb said in the Holtec news release.

“We have a very educated citizenry, our public officials are well educated as it relates to the nuclear fuel cycle, and we know that our site that we have characterized half way between Hobbs and Carlsbad, 35 miles from each community, is the best site in this country,” Cobb said. “It has the right geography and it has the right geology to implement the system that Holtec has designed.”

Gov. Susana Martinez (R) has also expressed her support in a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, saying the project could provide a solution to the nation’s interim waste storage needs.

“There is a strong pre-existing scientific and nuclear operations workforce in the area and the dry, remote region is well-suited for an interim storage site,” Martinez said in the letter to Moniz.

“Millions of taxpayer dollars are currently being spent on monitoring and oversight of spent fuel each year, and millions more are being spent on settlement payments related to waste disposition,” Martinez said. The New Mexico governor would go on to call dry cask storage “a proven, passive and safe system that has been used since 1984 with no adverse incidents.”

According to the Agreement, Holtec will design, license, build and operate the storage facility, which will be an enlarged version of the HI-STORM UMAX (acronym for Underground Maximum security) system being deployed at two nuclear plants in the United States.

The storage facility will be designed for a 100-year service life with unfettered capability to retrieve and move the canisters at any time during the facilities service life, Holtec said.

There is no technical limit on the facility’s storage capacity which will be established by the need. As a point of reference, the size of the HI-STORM UMAX facility to store the entire storage capacity of the Yucca Mountain repository (75,000 metric tons) computes to merely 32 acres of land, Holtec said.

The Holtec facility would feature no aboveground structures for the transfer of loaded canisters. Nor will it require any utilities (water, compressed air, or electric power) for its operation; eliminating any elements of vulnerability to terrorism, Holtec said.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.