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Developer files plans to build waste nuclear fuel storage site in New Mexico

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Developer files plans to build waste nuclear fuel storage site in New Mexico

An energy equipment and systems supplier asked federal regulators to approve a license to build a private nuclear waste interim storage facility in southeastern New Mexico capable of holding every loaded nuclear waste canister currently stored at nuclear power plants across the U.S.

With the support of New Mexico officials, Holtec International asked the U.S. NRC to approve a license to construct its proposed HI-STORE consolidated interim storage, or CIS, facility near Carlsbad, N.M. The proposed facility is designed to hold spent nuclear fuel for up to 100 years underground.

"HI-STORE CIS is a truly universal storage system in as much as it is designed to accept every canister currently loaded at every US nuclear plant," Holtec said in a news release. "Therefore, every nuclear plant in the country, shutdown or operating, including even those that do not currently use Holtec’s storage systems, will be able to ship their canisters to the HI-STORE site."

Holtec has the backing of various local and state officials, including New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez, who wrote a letter recently to U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry in support of establishing a consolidated interim storage facility in southeastern New Mexico. If constructed, the firm's underground and self-funded facility will be hosted by a joint venture of New Mexico counties and cities known as the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance LLC. The project was first announced in April 2015.

The support of New Mexico's governor for the storage facility is in stark contrast to neighboring Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval's recent statement threatening litigation to stop the licensing of a permanent deep geological repository about 85 miles from Las Vegas at Yucca Mountain. The Nevada governor stressed his state's opposition to Yucca after meeting with Perry during an apparently unannounced visit to the dormant site on March 27. The former Texas governor's visit followed on the heels of a lawsuit filed by Texas against the U.S. Department of Energy for failing to take responsibility of spent nuclear fuel building up at reactor sites across the U.S.

Sandoval said continuing to spend taxpayer money on the defunded and incomplete government-ran facility at Yucca would be "ill-advised" when the "better solution" is to build privately owned waste storage sites, like Waste Control Specialists' proposed above-ground facility in Andrews, Texas, that have the consent of the host states. In January, the NRC started reviewing the application by Valhi Inc. subsidiary WCS and its project partners, AREVA SA and Hitachi Zosen Corp. subsidiary NAC International.

The Holtec application for a site-specific license included a safety analysis and environmental reports and follows a presubmittal technical audit conducted in February by the NRC. Holtec said it incorporated into its design "exceedingly stringent criteria" and fortified construction techniques learned from the decadelong licensing process of Private Fuel Storage, the only licensed CIS in the U.S.

According to the developer, the safety features, including the ability to withstand a 10,000-year earthquake, have already been used by Holtec in the successfully licensed design of a CIS facility for Ukraine's state-ran nuclear company, Energoatom. In addition, the developer said the HI-STORE CIS facility's use of the already NRC-certified subterranean storage system known as HI-STORM UMAX, will make radiation dose leakage virtually nonexistent, thus making the accreted dose to the surroundings, even at the site's full capacity of 10,000 loaded canisters, only negligible.

Holtec will hold a news briefing on its application submission April 5 in Washington, D.C.

WCS is awaiting regulatory approval of its acquisition by competitor EnergySolutions.