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Critics becoming more concerned about safety issues in Texas nuclear waste storage plan

A Texas waste storage plan is back. So is the opposition, Edward Klump, E&E News reporter, Energywire: Tuesday, September 11, 2018 A proposal to send used nuclear fuel to West Texas didn’t end last year, but it did stall during a trip to corporate purgatory.

Now a joint venture called Interim Storage Partners LLC has the plan moving forward again. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently restarted its review of a consolidated interim storage application for a site in Andrews County, Texas. And the NRC staff’s safety, security and environmental reviews could be finished in summer 2020.

Critics are worried about what’s brewing. They’re asking questions and hoping for more public meetings. Some would like to halt the project. One of the chief opponents knows the proposal won’t be easy to stop, but she’s working to rally Texans and others against the plan.

“Most people don’t even know this is happening,” said Karen Hadden, executive director of the Texas-based Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition. “The public is unaware, and they’re unaware of the risks that they are about to be exposed to.”

The project is another flashpoint in a long-running debate over nuclear energy and associated waste after a number of U.S. nuclear plants stopped producing power or announced plans to close. Congress has considered legislation that could help pave the way for interim storage facilities in Texas and New Mexico as well as a longer-term site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Hadden has voiced concern about those three sites and potential plans to transport nuclear waste across the country.

The spent fuel storage plan for West Texas is tied to Waste Control Specialists (WCS), which has endured financial issues and houses low-level radioactive waste in the region. A plan by Valhi Inc. to unload WCS to EnergySolutions collapsed in 2017. Early this year, J.F. Lehman & Co. announced that an investment affiliate had acquired WCS. That was followed in March by news of a planned venture involving Orano USA and WCS (Energywire, March 19).

The new Orano-WCS entity — now called Interim Storage Partners, or ISP — later sought a restart of the NRC review that was halted in 2017. In August of this year, the NRC said the revised application was acceptable but that additional information would be sought.

“The NRC staff has reviewed your request and concludes that the revised license application provides information sufficient to resume its detailed review,” the NRC said in a letter.

Jeff Isakson, chief executive of ISP, said in a recent statement that ISP looked forward “to an energized and timely process.”

‘Snickering and giggling’

ISP said its venture initially is intended to store used nuclear fuel from shutdown reactor locations. That would lower the burden on U.S. taxpayers and allow sites to be redeveloped, it said. The application is for 40 years, though it could be extended by decades…….

A license application with the NRC said Orano USA ultimately is majority owned and controlled by an entity of the French government. But ISP has said its governing officers and management board members are U.S. citizens……..

Much of nuclear waste critics’ focus had turned to an interim storage proposal from Holtec International for New Mexico. That plan is also under review at the NRC (Greenwire, May 9).

While Hadden said there was “a nice reprieve” on the West Texas proposal, she said “the threat is ever-present and on the burner now.”

Instead of using the proposed interim sites or Yucca Mountain, Hadden would like to see the United States pursue a new location for a permanent repository that’s geologically sound and uses improved storage technology.

A public step in the process for the West Texas site was evident in late August: a meeting about the emergency response plan. Representatives of the NRC, ISP and other interested parties attended in person in Maryland or on the phone.

The meeting covered aspects of the response plan and gave people a chance to interact. At one point, a speaker said that “nobody lives anywhere near us.” That was followed by a description of the location as “in the middle of stinking nowhere.” The remarks drew laughter as well as an unhappy response from a listener on the phone who wasn’t sure who made them.

“There was a statement made about this site being in the middle of nowhere, and there was some snickering and giggling,” said Monica Perales, an attorney. “I live in the middle of nowhere, and that’s not appreciated.”

In an interview last week, Perales said the attitude during the meeting “made me feel as though we in West Texas are expendable.”

………Critics remain concerned about transportation, including the potential effects on cities and the potential for terrorists to target waste.

Hadden has called for public meetings in places such as Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Midland, El Paso and Andrews County to discuss issues related to possible interim nuclear waste storage in Texas. She’s working on a public awareness campaign that’s expected to take place later this month and run into October, featuring a full-scale mock radioactive waste transport cask.

Hadden argued future NRC requests for additional information could bring up new issues the public should be able to examine, so NRC deadlines should be extended. Critics say there is already a new financial situation to analyze in terms of ISP’s involvement.……….https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060096457

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September 12, 2018 - Posted by | USA, wastes

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