Holtec receives license for consolidated spent fuel storage site in New Mexico

May 11, 2023, 9:30AMRadwaste Solutions
A rendering of Holtec’s proposed HI-STORE CISF in New Mexico. (Image: Holtec)

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a license to Holtec International to construct and operate a consolidated interim storage facility (CISF) for spent nuclear fuel in southeastern New Mexico. Holtec is proposing building the facility, called the HI-STORE CISF, between the cities of Carlsbad and Hobbs in Lea County on land provided by the Eddy Lea Energy Alliance (ELEA).

“The licensing of HI-STORE CISF should be viewed as the triumph of private perseverance in the service of public purpose,” said Kris Singh, Holtec’s president and chief executive officer. “We thank the nuclear-savvy communities of the southeast New Mexico region and their visionary leaders who have welcomed us to bring our technologies to create environmentally benign and well-paying jobs and help diversify the region’s economy thus fostering a stable industrial base.”

The details: The license, issued May 9, authorizes Holtec to receive, possess, transfer, and store 500 canisters holding approximately 8,680 metric tons of commercial spent nuclear fuel for 40 years using the company’s below-grade HI-STORM UMAX cask system. The company said it plans to eventually store up to 10,000 canisters in an additional 19 phases. Each expansion phase would require a license amendment with additional NRC safety and environmental reviews.

The HI-STORE CISF will unify all different storage canisters (both vertically and horizontally stored) in one standardized system, simplifying operations and aging management activities, Holtec said.

The history: Working with the ELEA, Holtec submitted its CISF license application to the NRC in March 2017. The NRC’s review of the license application included a technical safety and security review, an environmental impact review, and adjudication before an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, which resolved contentions filed by several local and national petitioners.

A safety evaluation report, documenting the technical review, is being issued along with the license. A final environmental impact statement was published last July and supplemented in October. The environmental study included extensive public input during its development and during the comment phase.

Information about the Holtec application and the NRC’s review is available on the NRC website. Licensing documents will also be posted on this site.

The opposition: While the HI-STORE CISF has the support of local community leaders, who recognize its value in diversifying an economy largely dependent on the oil and gas industries, the NRC licensing comes after New Mexico passed legislation designed to prevent the project. On March 17, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed S.B. 53, which prohibits the storage and disposal of radioactive waste in New Mexico without the state’s consent.

Opponents of that law, however, say it challenges long-standing federal authority over nuclear safety matters and will lead to new court challenges.

The precedent: Licensing of the HI-STORE CISF follows similar licenses previously issued by the NRC for away-from-reactor spent fuel storage installations. Private Fuel Storage received a license in 2006 for a facility to be sited in Utah, but the company later withdrew its license amid opposition and the site was never developed.

In September 2021, the NRC issued a license to Interim Storage Partners (ISP) for a proposed storage site in Andrews, Texas. The state of Texas is currently fighting that effort, and ISP—a joint venture of Orano USA and Waste Control Specialists—has not begun construction on the facility.

According to Holtec, the HI-STORE CISF fulfills a recommendation of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, which in 2012 argued for the establishment of one or more consolidated interim storage facilities, independent of the schedule for opening a repository.

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