Holtec’s interim nuclear waste application challenged in court

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Holtec International’s proposed nuclear waste interim storage facility in southeast New Mexico faces a new legal challenge.

Anti-nuclear group Beyond Nuclear filed a petition for review Thursday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The group asks for review of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s rejection of their petitions.

The group alleges that the NRC cannot issue Holtec a license because the company’s application includes a provision that the U.S. Department of Energy may be the owner of the facility’s nuclear waste. The group says approval would violate the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.

That law prevents the government from taking ownership of nuclear waste from private utilities before a permanent repository is in operation. The government has yet to open such a site.

“The reason that provision is in the NWPA is to protect a state like New Mexico from being forced to store this waste before a permanent repository is opened,” said Kevin Kamps, a radioactive waste specialist with Beyond Nuclear. “(Holtec has) now added a clause that includes ‘and/or nuclear utilities’ in the list of potential customers. That was good enough for the NRC, apparently.”

Beyond Nuclear presented its petition to NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board. In April, the NRC upheld that board’s dismissal of the petition.

An April 23 NRC order says Holtec “hopes Congress will change the (NWPA) law to allow DOE to enter into temporary storage contracts with Holtec.”

But the order notes that Holtec has committed to not enter into unlawful contracts.

“We disagree with the assertions that the license would violate the NWPA,” the NRC writes.

An emailed statement from Holtec issued to the Journal says the company “believes that the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board and the (NRC) were correct in denying the petitions argument … having to do with ownership transfer to the federal government of spent fuel to be stored at the HI-STORE facility.”

Holtec is “confident that the Court will agree” with NRC’s analysis.

The petition alleges that the NRC is also violating the Administrative Procedure Act.

“Agencies have to work with what Congress gave (them),” said Mindy Goldstein, an attorney for Beyond Nuclear and the director of the Turner Environmental Law Clinic at the Emory University School of Law. “We feel NRC is stepping around that requirement. Congress has said that DOE can’t own this waste.”

The proposed facility would store spent nuclear fuel in 500 canisters on a 1,000-acre site between Carlsbad and Hobbs. The full project could store 10,000 canisters.

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