Holtec builds on first-of-a-kind learnings in race to license US storage facility

Holtec’s two-phase licensing approach for its $280 million consolidated interim storage facility (CISF) project in New Mexico allows the company to use recent learnings in U.S. and Ukraine to accelerate approval for all storage canisters.

In April, Holtec started the second phase of a CISF licensing program which would make it the first company to store all canisters types currently used at U.S. plants.

Holtec and Waste Control Services (WCS) are competing to build the U.S.’ first CISF facility, ahead of a proposed state-owned permanent repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

There is currently around 78,620 metric tons (MT) of used nuclear fuel stored at decommissioned and active reactor sites across 35 states. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has proposed a pilot facility for consolidated storage be in place by 2021, followed by a larger storage facility by 2025 and a permanent repository by 2048.

              Stored used fuel by US state

                                     (Click image to enlarge)

Holtec plans to build a $280 million CISF to host 10,000 storage canisters, representing 120,000 MT of spent fuel, between the cities of Carlsbad and Hobbs. The company has launched a two-phased licensing approach, initially seeking to store Areva-supplied 24PT1-DSC canisters using Holtec’s HI-STORM UMAX dry spent fuel storage system.

In a second phase, the company will file a series of license amendment requests to include all canisters currently in use at U.S. plants-- supplied by Areva, Pacific Nuclear, Vectra, NAC, Sierra Nuclear and BNFL Solutions & Westinghouse.

“This is the first time the NRC will review an application of this technical nuance,” Joy Russell, V.P., Corporate Business Development at Holtec, told Nuclear Energy Insider.

“The HI-STORM UMAX is the first time we are licensing a competitor’s canister in a Holtec system,” she said.

The authorization of third-party canisters within a host system would be a significant development for U.S. fuel storage, Michael Callahan, President of the Governmental Strategies Incorporated consultancy, said.

“If NRC grants Holtec a license to store an Areva cask then they could soon be one-third of the way to being able to deliver on storing all of the vendors’ canisters present in the U.S. market,” he said.

Storage race

Holtec plans to complete its CISF facility in 2022 and hopes that its multi-phase licensing approach will streamline the approval process.

                                   Holtec's current CISF schedule


Data source: Holtec

In comparison, WCS plans to complete its 5,000 MT above-ground storage facility in Andrews, West Texas by 2021. Additional systems would be added to the license application at a later date, with the aim of housing 40,000 MT.

WCS submitted a license application to the NRC for the initial 5000 MT facility in April 2016 and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) accepted WCS' license application for formal review in January 2017.

In its initial application phase, WCS is targeting Areva and NAC International casks, focusing on waste from higher-return decommissioned sites, to minimize risks to project duration and costs. WCS has said it aims to receive regulatory approval by 2019, although WCS is currently being sold to EnergySolutions. In April, WCS requested the NRC suspend its license application until the sale is completed-- expected by late summer 2017.

                      WCS' proposed Dry Storage Configurations

Source: WCS' CISF Application to the NRC (April, 2016)

Holtec and WCS will both be looking to secure business from the recently shutdown San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) in California, which hosts 24PT1-DSC canisters in Areva NUHOMS modules. In April, Southern California Edison announced they are looking to move waste away from their facility and on May 11 Holtec-ELEA made a pitch to the SONGS Community Engagement Panel to take-on the waste.

Knowledge base

Holtec is satisfied with the progress of its licensing application and the feedback from the first phase of the process will be used to accelerate future submissions to the NRC.

“Based on our previous experience we made the decision to “crawl, walk run” with regards to this new approach,” Russell told Nuclear Energy Insider.

“Once the protocol is established for licensing a competitor’s canister we will utilize the same approach for licensing additional canister types,” she said.

The company is also incorporating lessons learned from its Skull Valley CISF licensing program in 1997-2005-- the U.S.’ first NRC licensed CISF project which was shelved in 2013 due to federal government opposition- and its ongoing Ukraine CSFSF storage facility project.

The Ukraine CSFSF is scheduled to come online in 2019 and will use a double wall canister design to ensure a significantly extended service life, as well as METAMIC-HT fuel baskets to improve the efficiency of heat rejection from the storage casks and maintain nuclear criticality. Ukrainian regulators authorized Holtec to manufacture equipment for the facility at its U.S. facilities and site construction is scheduled to be completed in mid-2018.

Regulatory hurdles

Holtec could also benefit from lessons learned from WCS’ license application, regarding public interactions and dialogue between the NRC and the WCS.

“They have certainly observed that the NRC have had a number of vigorous questions on how WCS would ensure all facets of safe storage … we should expect the NRC will be as vigorously inquisitive with Holtec on this,” said Callahan.

When WCS filed its license application in April 2016, NRC requested supplementary information, including aspects within the Environmental Report related to the impact of future building activities on the site and local transport information, NRC documents show.

WCS responded to priority requests within weeks and asked the NRC to file an Intent to Prepare the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in the Federal Register in order to optimize the project schedule.

"Preparing the EIS is probably the longest lead item in the overall schedule. It is expected to take two or three years to finish that process, so if the NRC begins now they can use some of their existing resources they have slated for this project," Scott Kirk, then WCS' Vice President of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, said at a webinar hosted by Nuclear Energy Insider in July 2016.

Federal support

In 2015, Holtec CEO Pierre Oneid warned the biggest challenge to the commercial viability of CISFs is gaining sufficient federal support. The Senate and House of Representatives must agree on a common bill to allow interim storage facilities and the 2016 presidential elections slowed the advancement of proposed bills.

However, the Trump administration has signalled support for interim storage projects, as well as the proposed Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository. President Trump's first budget includes $120 million of funding to restart licensing activities for the Yucca Mountain project and support a "robust interim storage program."

Local support is also key and Holtec and WCS have secured significant government backing for their projects.

In April 2015, Holtec and Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance (ELEA) – a consortium of Eddy County and Lea County who purchased the site land - signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) covering the design, licensing construction and operation of the CISF. The facility has also been endorsed by Governor Susana Martinez and Senator Carroll Leavell.

Andrews County has signed a resolution supporting the WCS project and local Congressman Mike Conaway filed the Interim Consolidated Storage Act in a push to legalize privately-owned storage facilities.

Callahan expects the next 12-18 months to be an active period for legislation crucial to the Holtec and WCS projects, as well as the Yucca Mountain repository.

“It’s now time for the government to decide how it will deal with the repository and/or consolidated interim storage in a comprehensive and prompt fashion," he said.

By Kerry Chamberlain