New Mexico Senate Bill 82 is making its way through the committee process; it calls for a state task force (on radioactive waste). I don’t have an opinion on the bill; however, I support the Holtec project, and here are my detailed reasons.
1. Why consolidated storage?
The 1987 Nuclear Waste Policy Act requires the government to store used fuel. The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository in Nevada was the designated site. That project stalled years ago without a clear path forward. Used fuel accumulates at power plants around the country, often close to large populations. The used fuel must be removed before those locations can be available for other purposes.
Another objective of consolidated storage is to reduce the probability and consequence of an unlikely release of radioactivity. The consolidated interim storage facility (CISF) will enhance safety by placing spent fuel in new containers in a new facility designed for storage.
2. Why locate in southeastern New Mexico?
Southeastern New Mexico is a remote, sparsely populated desert like Yucca Mountain. Eddy and Lea Counties are adjacent to where the CISF will be located, with 14 and 16 persons per square mile respectively – see ibis.health.state.nm. The CISF location is unpopulated, about 30 miles from Carlsbad and Hobbs, the nearest cities.
Southeastern New Mexico has good travel conditions. Weather issues are infrequent, and traffic is usually sparse. The ground is mostly level with clear visibility.
Used fuel storage at CISF is regulated by several U.S. agencies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). NRC’s title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 72 (10CFR72) is robust, comprehensive and rigorously enforced as explained in the next section.
3. What about transporting used fuel?
“A Historic Review of the Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel”, FCRD-NFST-2016-00474, Rev 1 documents a long history of shipping. It is available at www.energy.gov/ne/downloads/historical-review-safe-transport-spent-nuclear-fuel. In 2016, it reported about 3,500 shipments in the United States and 25,000 worldwide. The accidents that occurred resulted in little or no damage to the shipping casks and no radiation released.
CISF shipments must comply with the NRC’s 10CFR71, Packaging and Transportation of Radioactive Material. One of many safeguards is mandating backup systems to prevent a release. This regulation covers all actions associated with shipments and requires:
A rigorous quality assurance program for payloads, design, testing, certification, purchasing, manufacturing, operation, maintenance and decommissioning.
Testing and/or analyses to demonstrate the design meets worst-case “hypothetical accident conditions” of: One or more 30 foot drops in the most damaging orientations on an “unyielding surface,” drops on a spike in the most damaging orientations, burning at 1,475 degrees F for approximately 30 minutes. With the cumulative damage, the test unit must pass a rigorous leak test. A water immersion test equivalent of 50 feet deep may be performed on an undamaged unit.
Everything must be documented, from procedures to plans for design, purchasing, manufacturing, operation and maintenance. Qualifications for inspectors, welders, operators, and other workers must also be documented, along with all processes, materials and work.
Oversight by the NRC, inspections, reviews, and audits verify what was tested, manufactured and operated does comply with licensing documents.
Reporting requirements for non-conforming conditions, maintenance issues and any other condition apply to everyone involved with shipping used fuel. Errors and omissions are unlikely because a violation of any regulation may be subject to terminating licenses, civil and criminal penalties.
4. Who benefits besides power plants?
Economic benefits for southeastern New Mexico and the state are employee payrolls and related business activity. This is especially helpful through downturns in oilfield work, the area’s main industry. In addition, an NRC compliant manufacturing is planned in New Mexico.
By taking care of used fuel storage, Holtec frees limited government resources for more productive things, such as new, clean power sources. As a resident of southeastern New Mexico, I expect Holtec’s CISF to be beneficial for the local area, the state and the country.