Court vacates Holtec’s license for New Mexico spent fuel facility

April 3, 2024, 7:27AMNuclear News
Concept art of Holtec’s proposed HI-STORE CISF in New Mexico. (Image: Holtec)

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has vacated Holtec International’s license to build and operate a consolidated interim storage facility (CISF) for spent nuclear fuel near the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southeastern New Mexico. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted the license for the Holtec facility, called the HI-STORE CISF in May 2023.

On March 27, a three-judge panel issued a two-page order vacating Holtec’s license, aligning the court’s decision with its ruling in Texas v. NRC. That ruling, issued in August 2023, vacated Interim Storage Partners’ (ISP’s) license for a CISF for commercial spent nuclear fuel in Andrews County, Texas. According to the court, the NRC did not have the authority to grant a license for an away-from-reactor spent fuel storage facility.

The ruling: Fasken Land and Minerals (Fasken), an oil and gas industry group, and Permian Basin Land and Royalty Owners (PBRO), an association of ranchers and oil companies, petitioned the 5th Circuit Court challenging Holtec’s license. Fasken and PBRO, along with the state of Texas, were plaintiffs in Texas v. NRC, which vacated ISP’s NRC-granted license.

In vacating Holtec’s license, the court wrote, “Because this court’s holding in Texas v. NRC dictates the outcome here, we grant Fasken’s and PBLRO’s petition for review and vacate the Holtec license. The NRC’s motion to transfer the petition for review to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is denied as moot.”

The D.C. district court is currently reviewing a separate lawsuit challenging the HI-STORE CISF license. It heard arguments in that case, Beyond Nuclear, Inc. v. NRC, on March 5.

Given previous federal court rulings affirming the NRC’s authority to grant licenses for such facilities, it is expected that the 5th Circuit Court’s orders will be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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