Nuclear critics fight spent fuel storage site in Texas

Beyond Nuclear, Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), Public Citizen, and the Texas-based Sustainable Energy & Economic Development (SEED) Coalition — are calling on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to terminate its review of the license application for the controversial plan by Waste Control Specialists (WCS) to construct an interim high-level nuclear waste facility in Andrews County, Texas.

WCS seeks a permit to build and operate the supposedly short-term storage facility for up to 40,000 metric tons of highly dangerous nuclear waste in Andrews County, but only if the U.S. government first assumes responsibility for the waste and further agrees to ship it to the Texas site by rail, the four advocacy groups said in an Oct. 27 news release.

The license application is for the first 5,000 metric tons but the company’s promotional materials show they are planning on expanding the site to accommodate more than half of the estimated 75,000 metric tons of commercial nuclear waste currently in the United States, the groups argue in a recent letter to NRC.

The groups are concerned that the “interim” storage facility may become the de facto permanent home for the highly toxic waste. Given the long battle over Yucca Mountain, the groups have “zero confidence that Congress or federal regulators would have the stomach for fighting to move the nuclear waste a second time from WCS or any other “interim” site,” the utilities said.

And, with utilities totally off the hook and taxpayers footing the entire bill, those that generated the waste would have no incentive to ensure its safe disposal in a permanent geologic repository.

The groups’ letter demands that NRC immediately drop its review of the WCS application, including its plans to embark on an environmental study.

NRC recently informed WCS that it has started on an environmental review of the WCS license application in Docket No. 72-1050.

WCS filed its application with NRC in April for a consolidated interim spent fuel storage facility (CISF) in Andrews County, Texas. Public Citizen and the other organizations argue that the license is precluded by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.

WCS plans to build and run the facility and assumes that the Department of Energy (DOE) will take ownership of the spent fuel to be stored at the site.

“The only NWPA provision that allows transfer of title to spent fuel from commercial licensees to the DOE, prior to the opening of a repository[such as Yucca Mountain] is the emergency ‘Interim Storage Program’ found in Subtitle B of the NWPA.” But the interim storage program expired in 1990, the groups said in their letter.

Dianne Curran of Harmon Curran Spielberg & Eisenberg LLP is the lead attorney cited in the letter addressed to NRC Executive Director of Operations Victor McCree among others.

WCS plans to store spent fuel from commercial reactors; initially, from reactors that have permanently shut down.

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.