In comments filed with the Department of Energy (DOE), the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) said using a “consent-based siting process” to pick a future storage site for spent nuclear fuel is a good idea — but Yucca Mountain in Nevada is still the “only currently authorized repository project.”
The nuclear trade group filed its comments with DOE July 29. In December 2015 DOE announced plans to accept comments on a consent-based process that was spawned from 2012 recommendations for the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future.
DOE’s invitation notes how previous attempts to develop long-term solutions for used fuel storage and disposal “have resulted in controversy, litigation, protracted delays and ultimately a failure to address the problem,” NEI said in its comments.
NEI said that “DOE fails to mention its own role in creating controversy, litigation, protracted delays and failure to develop Yucca Mountain as a long-term disposal solution, or that under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA), Yucca Mountain is still the only used fuel and high-level waste repository authorized to date.”
NEI urges DOE to follow current law and request Congress to fund the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)’s completion of its Yucca Mountain licensing review.
“If DOE does proceed with a consent-based siting approach, we emphasize that this would not, and legally cannot, substitute for compliance with the NWPA,” NEI said.
In other words, consent-based siting should only apply to a new facility, NEI said. “Such a process is not appropriate, nor should it be imposed, for projects where siting assent has already been obtained or is currently being negotiated, as is the case for the interim storage projects proposed for Andrews County, Texas and southeast New Mexico,” NEI said.
NEI looks at ongoing waste storage efforts in the U.S., elsewhere
NEI’s comments also discuss a number of domestic and international nuclear waste storage and disposal projects that could provide useful insights as DOE considers a consent-based siting process.
- The 2015 decision to grant a license to construct a geologic nuclear waste disposal facility at Olkiluoto Island in Finland suggests that building on previous positive experience can be an effective means of obtaining consent for a future project, NEI said.
- On April 28, 2016, Waste Control Specialists (WCS) submitted to the NRC a license application to construct and operate a Consolidated Interim Storage Facility (CISF) for commercial used nuclear fuel at its 14,000 acre facility in Andrews County, Texas. As proposed, the CISF would be built adjacent to WCS’s existing low level radioactive waste (LLRW) disposal facilities
- On April 29, 2015, Holtec International announced that it had signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance (ELEA)—a company owned by New Mexico’s Eddy and Lea counties and the cities of Carlsbad and Hobbs. The MOA set forth the parties’ intent to establish a facility to store commercial used nuclear fuel until a geologic repository for permanent disposal becomes available. Holtec anticipates submitting an application for a NRC license later this year.
- The Nye County, Nevada Early Warning Drilling Program illustrates how government funding of technical research can engender local community consent. The early warning drilling program was initiated as part of the Nye County Nuclear Waste Repository Project Office Independent Scientific Investigations Program. The purpose of Nye County’s program was to provide geologic and hydrologic information that county officials believed should be included as part of DOE’s characterization of the Yucca Mountain repository.
- Cigéo is the proposed nuclear waste geologic disposal facility to be built in France by ANDRA, the public entity in charge of the long-term management of all radioactive waste in France. After an extensive “public debate” the license application to construct Cigéo is expected to be filed in 2017 and construction is expected to begin in 2020, NEI said.
- The Canadian Nuclear Waste Management Organization (CNWMO) has developed a process for “identifying an informed and willing host community for a deep geologic repository for the long-term management of used nuclear fuel in Canada.” There is a six-step siting process that would culminate with a suitable site, which had already expressed interest, entering into a formal agreement to host the project.