Finding an interim solution for US used fuel14 August 2019
A US joint venture, Interim Storage Partners, is aiming to develop a safe, reliable interim used fuel storage solution for the US industry
A key challenge to the US nuclear industry’s continued operation and growth in the coming years is addressing the backend of the nuclear fuel cycle. To face it, building on the initiative of Waste Control Specialists (WCS), Orano and NAC International Inc. (NAC) in 2015, Orano and WCS formed the joint venture Interim Storage Partners in 2018 to continue to license, design, build, and operate a Consolidated Interim Storage Facility in Andrews County, Texas.
This CISF combines the strengths of Orano, the world leader in used nuclear fuel management and transportation, and WCS’s strong operational experience with its existing waste disposal facility. With the strength of the Dry Fuel Technology providers NAC and Orano TN, the CISF project will be able to address more than 80% of the stranded fuel at shutdown reactor sites.
Reducing cost and risk
Today in the USA, former reactor operators must individually continue dedicating resources to manage, secure and protect the used fuel at their shutdown sites. Communities are also impacted because prime industrial sites cannot be put to productive use.
Establishing a CISF creates a consolidated team of experts to address the requirements of ageing management and security, and sustain this expertise for the life of the licence. A CISF is supportive and complementary to the creation of a national repository, and, as experience has shown, it is vital to have a complementary backup option for interim used fuel management to mitigate potential interruptions of planned waste shipments to a repository.
The CISF project will bring economic benefits to the host community and well-paying jobs. Transportation assets for the CISF can be reused for transport to the final repository. As part of the WCS facility’s existing operations, the rail on site has been upgraded to accommodate heavier loads well within the range needed to receive used fuel shipments to the CISF. When the time comes to transport fuel, only routes reviewed and approved by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Transport will be used.
Consolidating the used fuel storage is expected to result in cost-savings to the US taxpayer by providing more efficient resource utilisation, resolving and avoiding litigation for stranded dry storage sites, and also allows the site owner to repurpose or monetise the restored site.
Environmental impacts have been extensively analysed throughout the region where the CISF will be built. The facility will be constructed on WCS’s existing site. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality conducted environmental reviews during the low-level-waste (LLW) licensing process and continues to have an onsite presence at the currently operating WCS facility. The proposed approach addresses the cumulative environmental impacts are analysed for the different phases of the project.
Licensing is ongoing
Interim Storage Partners asked the NRC to restart the review of the CISF licence application in June 2018. The NRC’s review is expected to be completed in May 2021.
The initial licence application is targeted at stranded ISFSIs with fuel that is essentially ready to ship today. The project has taken a simple approach in the licence application by referencing the same technology that is safely protecting and storing the cooling fuel currently at the shutdown reactor sites. This licensing strategy takes advantage of the experientially proven safety of the technology at those sites.
The CISF is well-positioned to be an important part of the solution for the backend of the fuel cycle in the USA. Building on the strengths of Orano, Waste Control Specialists, and NAC International, it is prepared to safely receive and store up to 40,000 metric tons of heavy metal (MTHM), thereby reducing the burden on the US taxpayers while the country makes progress towards establishing a national repository.