Nuclear waste in the oil zone? Federal government initiates clash with Texas


A West Texas site now has a federal license to store used nuclear fuel, creating a potential showdown with heads of state who object to the prospect of attracting high-level radioactive waste from all the countries.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announcement the license for Interim Storage Partners LLC to build and operate an interim storage facility in Andrews County, Texas on Monday – just days after Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill aimed at restricting the storage of nuclear waste in the State.

Yesterday, Abbott attempted to use the new license in the Permian Basin oilfield to hammer President Biden away, although an application for the site was filed in 2016 and the Trump administration did not kill the project. .

“Administrator Biden Tries to Dump Highly Radioactive Nuclear Waste in West Texas Oil Fields,” Abbott noted on Twitter. “I just signed a law to stop it. Texas will not become America’s dumping ground for nuclear waste.

David McIntyre, an NRC spokesperson, declined to comment on the governor’s criticism, but said in a statement this week that “the licensing decision was made in accordance with applicable federal laws and regulations after technical reviews and in-depth, multi-year environmental issues “.

The tragedy is being watched by the electricity industry, as nuclear power plants continue to store spent fuel on site without a permanent repository in the United States. Yucca Mountain in Nevada has failed to garner enough sustained support to be an option (Daily E&E, 22nd of July). Meanwhile, backers of the Interim Storage Partners, or ISP, site in West Texas and a separate East New Mexico project from Holtec International have pursued interim storage proposals that could last. decades.

The NRC said this was the second license it issued for a consolidated storage facility for spent nuclear fuel. The first took place in 2006 for a different facility that was not built. A decision on Holtec’s application for a site in Lea County, New Mexico, is expected in January, according to the nuclear safety authority. Opposition to Holtec’s plan also erupted in New Mexico.

It remains to be seen how the West Texas proposal proceeds from there. The ISP could directly challenge Texas’ position or take a more conciliatory and wait-and-see approach before seeking to move forward.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, in response to a question from E&E News yesterday, said its “role is NOT to issue permits under the jurisdiction of the TCEQ as stated in the wording of the bill “if permits are sought for a high-level radioactive waste facility in the state such as the FAI site.”

In a statement released yesterday, ISP said that “the proposed facility would be located adjacent to the existing low-level nuclear material disposal facility of Waste Control Specialists in Andrews County, Texas.” ISP is a joint venture of Waste Control Specialists and Orano USA, with the support of a technology provider called NAC International. A revised license application was submitted in 2018.

The PSI said the federal clearance was based on a comprehensive, multi-year review. The company has not indicated its next move or provided answers to questions posed by E&E News.

“The in-depth analyzes concluded that the commercial operations of temporary storage and transport of this facility meet all environmental, health and safety requirements without negatively impacting nearby residents or existing industries,” said ISP said in its statement.

Critics noted safety concerns for people living in West Texas, as well as concerns about the transport of nuclear waste across the country.

“There were no surprises in the NRC’s Twitter announcement regarding approval of the license to store deadly nuclear waste in Texas,” said Karen Hadden, executive director of Sustainable Energy & Economic Development Coalition, in a statement to E&E News. “There was no recognition of the overwhelming opposition in all of Texas. Just the federal government running our state for the benefit of a private company. “

“Really interesting moments”

In a statement ahead of the NRC’s announcement this week, Hadden said opponents “will continue to fight” even if the new license is issued. She said legal challenges remained and she expressed hope that the Texas attorney general would fight to protect people. A body of county commissioners in Andrews County, Texas, also supported a resolution against the storage of high-level nuclear waste this year, CBS local affiliate KOSA said. reported.

The recently signed Texas bill, HB 7, garnered broad support at a recent special session in Texas. The measure aims to prevent a state commission from issuing certain permits related to a potential installation. There are exceptions for the storage of highly radioactive waste, such as at sites of nuclear reactors currently or formerly in operation.

“NRC document grants clearance conclusively determining that consolidated storage of nuclear waste could be carried out safely by ISP,” Rod Baltzer, longtime member of the nuclear industry, noted on Twitter. “A document from the governor of Texas says not so fast. Really interesting moments.

Baltzer is the COO of Deep Isolation, a company related to nuclear waste disposal. He is a former Managing Director of Waste Control Specialists and has appeared in public to advocate for possible West Texas interim storage in the past (Energy wire, February 24, 2017).

The NRC said it has authorized ISP to store up to 5,000 metric tonnes of spent fuel and 231.3 metric tonnes of low-level radioactive waste above Class C for 40 years. Such materials may require more stringent disposal or storage methods. NRC noted the potential for phased expansion to a possible capacity of 40,000 metric tonnes of fuel. The commission said each expansion would require a license amendment and additional environmental and safety reviews.

Fred Beach, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said the federal government was on the verge of finding a storage solution for used nuclear fuel. He said he supported the concept of consolidated interim storage, including at the proposed site in West Texas.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry group, congratulated ISP on obtaining the permit from the NRC for the construction and operation of the consolidated interim storage facility for used fuel.

“If built, this facility would become an important part of our country’s clean energy infrastructure,” Rodney McCullum, senior director of decommissioning and used fuel at NEI, said in a statement.

In view of the legislative action in Texas, he encouraged the parties to work together.

“NEI believes that a program to establish an integrated nuclear waste management system – which should include both consolidated interim storage facilities and permanent geological storage capacity – should be reinstated and we commit to working with it. ‘administration, Congress and the Department of Energy in their efforts to address the management of used fuel, ”McCullum said.

Abbott, meanwhile, wrote to the NRC last November to say he strongly opposed ISP’s proposal for an interim storage facility in Texas and suggested it could affect states’ energy security. -United as a target of terrorists in a major oil-producing region. He sent another letter this month, highlighting his recent signing of HB 7. He urged the NRC to deny the license application.

“Now the state has made it clear that a consolidated interim storage facility is not only intrusive here, but illegal,” Abbott wrote in the September 10 letter.

The NRC issued its permit for the facility the following Monday, the next business day.

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