What is a consolidated interim storage facility for used nuclear fuel?
This proposed consolidated interim storage facility, or CISF, is specifically designed to safely and securely store used nuclear fuel in robust above-ground storage overpacks until the material can be transported to a national permanent repository. The CISF is also designed to safely store Greater Than Class C (GTCC) Low Level Radioactive Waste (LLRW).
What is this CISF joint venture called?
The joint venture developing the consolidated interim storage facility at the Waste Control Specialists site is Interim Storage Partners (ISP).
What will be the name of the new facility?
The name of the facility as defined in our license application is the WCS CISF. Interim Storage Partners will be the licensee and operator of the CISF. When the license application was changed to reflect ISP as the licensee, the name of the facility was not changed in the application to minimize the extent of the change. For the purposes of this FAQ, the term “CISF” refers to the Interim Storage Partners’ WCS CISF as described in this paragraph, unless otherwise indicated.
What is the purpose of the Interim Storage Partners’ WCS CISF?
ISP is seeking a license to store used nuclear fuel and Greater Than Class C (GTCC) Low-Level Radioactive Waste (LLRW) from commercial electrical nuclear energy facilities. This proposed CISF creates a near-term, interim solution to provide additional capabilities to the national used nuclear fuel management system, while reducing taxpayer costs from used fuel being stored at 70+ shutdown, decommissioned and operating nuclear energy facilities across the U.S. This private-sector storage solution combines the necessary technology and proven experience of expert companies, leveraged by a local presence that is actively engaged in the community and in Texas.
When will the Interim Storage Partners’ WCS CISF open?
Though we included a planned start date in the application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), it is too early in the review process to have a definitive date. Dependent on the review process, ISP anticipates a four- to five-year period for receipt of the NRC license and facility construction before operations begin.
What are the roles of the participants (Orano USA, Waste Control Specialists, Orano TN and NAC International) in the proposed storage project?
Orano USA and Waste Control Specialists have established a Joint Venture to pursue a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (Part 72) for consolidated storage of commercial used nuclear fuel (UNF) at Waste Control Specialists’ site in Andrews, TX, using Orano TN’s and NAC International’s proven above-ground dry fuel storage systems. The Orano TN NUHOMS® used fuel storage system is used at more than 30 sites across the country, including at shutdown nuclear energy facilities. NAC’s transportable used fuel storage technologies are used at more than 10 sites across the country, including at shutdown nuclear energy facilities. As of June 2019, there were more than 460 NAC International and 1265 Orano TN canisters in place at operating or decommissioned commercial nuclear energy facilities.
How many additional employees will be hired?
Once operational, there will be the addition of a site security force and a small number of full-time positions for operations and maintenance, fuel receipt and monitoring. During construction there will be an additional temporary workforce required at the site.
Will the concrete storage overpacks be manufactured locally?
Yes, we plan to manufacture the massive reinforced concrete storage overpacks on the site.
How is this project different from the one in New Mexico?
The Interim Storage Partners’ WCS CISF is not the same project as the one proposed in New Mexico. The ISP license application reflects different ownership and management as well as the receipt of fuel from different reactor sites than what would be received at the New Mexico site. This project also uses different dry storage systems than the one proposed in New Mexico.
Used Nuclear Fuel Storage
What is used (spent) nuclear fuel?
Used or spent nuclear fuel is a dry, solid ceramic pellet, not a liquid. These pellets are about the size and shape of a large pencil eraser. They are stacked and sealed inside long metal-alloy rods, which are then securely bound into a rectangular bundle called a fuel assembly. After the radioactive used fuel assemblies are removed from a reactor and cooled underwater for a minimum of two years, they are loaded into large stainless steel canisters, which are vacuum dried to remove all liquid and air from the sealed canister, and welded shut. The canister is filled with an inert gas that prevents the fuel from degrading over time. The canisters are stored on site in large concrete casks or vaults.
How will the used nuclear fuel be stored at the Interim Storage Partners’ WCS CISF?
The used fuel remains within the same sealed canister during transport from the reactor site and storage at the CISF. The canister is shipped inside a transportation overpack specially designed for that purpose and approved by the NRC. Once received inside the Cask Handling Building at the CISF, the used fuel canister is transferred to an onsite transport vehicle and placed inside an individual concrete storage overpack on the site’s storage pad. The CISF will use and accept NRC-licensed Orano TN and NAC International storage systems – the same systems currently storing the used fuel safely at the reactor sites. The above-ground, concrete storage overpacks simplify the used fuel canister loading, inspection access for the Aging Management Program (AMP), and eventual retrieval for transport to a permanent federal repository.
What are the radiation emissions from storing used nuclear fuel?
The CISF is designed so that any annual dose at the site boundary will be very low and indistinguishable from the natural West Texas background radiation level of about 30 millirems per year.
Are the canister walls thick enough for durability and radiation protection?
Ensuring radioactive material remains isolated inside the canister is accomplished through advanced materials science, precision engineering and layered protection, not just thickness. This is ensured by placing the fuel inside of canisters and the canister is then stored inside a concrete overpack. The purpose of the canisters is to contain the radioactive solid material (UNF) inside a welded container in a safe arrangement and in a dry and inert environment. The purposes of the concrete overpacks are to protect the canisters from external and environmental hazards, such as earthquakes and tornadoes and provide the necessary radiation protection. Both the canister and overpack ensure that the fuel remains cooled. The combination of the canister and overpack provides protection, security and safety.
Is used nuclear fuel classified as high-level radioactive waste?
Yes, by statute used nuclear fuel is classified as one of the two categories of “high-level” radioactive waste, and is managed according to strict federal regulations and oversight. Commercial Used Nuclear Fuel Assemblies contain solid used fuel pellets and should not be confused with another high-level waste category, which deals with the Department of Energy’s defense-related activities. The Interim Storage Partners’ WCS CISF will only be licensed to store used fuel assemblies, and solid (irradiated metals) reactor-related GTCC waste. No liquid or gaseous radioactive wastes are being licensed for storage at the Interim Storage Partners’ WCS CISF.
The initial Interim Storage Partners’ WCS CISF license is requested to be for 40 years—what if it has to be stored here for much longer?
This facility will be – and is required by NRC regulations to be – an actively managed and monitored storage site. This means conducting regularly scheduled inspections of the storage overpacks and the stored canisters as prescribed by an NRC approved Aging Management Program (AMP). The above-ground storage overpacks simplify the used fuel canister placement, inspection, and access to implement the learning AMPs. If the fuel needs to stay longer than 40 years, the license can be renewed by the NRC during a license renewal process; the data gathered from the learning AMPs will be evaluated and additional AMPs will be defined as necessary to ensure the continued safe storage at the Interim Storage Partners’ WCS CISF, and eventual retrieval for transport to a permanent federal repository.
Can the storage overpacks and internal canisters be inspected?
Yes, the storage overpacks’ exterior and interior surfaces and the canister’s external surface will be regularly inspected using technology and techniques that are developed and qualified under an NRC-approved Aging Management Program (AMP) for continued durability and compliance. Any concerns will be analyzed and addressed. The above-ground overpacks make external and internal inspections relatively simple. The AMP and license renewal processes ensure the continued effectiveness of the dry storage systems in use on this site.
Is there risk of an explosion or external hazard from used nuclear fuel?
The canister containing the dry used nuclear fuel and inert gas cannot explode or even catch fire. They contain no combustible materials. The solid pellets do not burn. In addition, there is no potential for a chemical or physical reaction that could build pressure inside the canister to cause it to burst. Dry used nuclear fuel in transport and storage is very stable and, therefore, there can be no comparison to Chernobyl or to nuclear weapons, or to the material being disposed at WIPP.
Extensive research, testing and experience has shown that there is no credible way for this solid used fuel material to spread and cause harm in an accident, even one that somehow breaches both the robust transport cask and canister.
How long will fuel be stored at the interim storage facility?
Federal legislation requires that a national geologic repository be licensed and constructed as a permanent used fuel storage solution. Since the licensing of a geologic disposal facility at Yucca Mountain has been interrupted, the timeline for a permanent solution is uncertain. ISP can safely store the used nuclear fuel at its consolidated interim storage facility until a permanent federal disposal facility is ready. The site’s Aging Management Programs are designed to regularly perform inspections to identify potential degradation in the storage systems for resolution well before the safe operation of the system could be affected. Building a CISF allows the U.S. to better optimize the storage and management of used nuclear fuel, but it does not replace the need for a national permanent geologic repository.
Is it safe to transport used fuel?
Across the globe and in the U.S., the movement of used nuclear fuel has an exemplary track record of safety, and far exceeds the standards for quality and protection required for other hazardous materials using the same transport infrastructure. Since 1965, more than 2,700 shipments of used fuel have been safely transported nearly 2 million miles across the United States – and there has never been a radiological release caused by a transportation accident. Globally, more than 200 casks are transported every year, with a total of nearly 10,000 used fuel casks having been delivered.
During transportation, the transport cask surrounding the canister is specifically engineered with multiple barriers, including the containment boundary, structural shell, gamma shielding material, and solid neutron shield. The transportation cask provides all the necessary protections to the canister during transportation. When the canister arrives at the Interim Storage Partners’ WCS CISF facility, the canister is transferred to its massive concrete storage overpack. The concrete storage overpack provides both physical protection and shielding for the canister inside to ensure the doses on and around the storage pads are well within exposure regulations.
How is used nuclear fuel prepared and secured for transport?
To transport used fuel assemblies, 24 to 68 assemblies are secured inside a metal-alloy “basket” of a large stainless steel canister. Once loaded and sealed, the canister is placed inside a robust NRC-certified heavy-walled transport cask engineered with multiple layers of different materials—approximately 4 inches of steel, 3 inches of lead and 6.25 inches of neutron shielding—to protect the fuel assembly from damage, contain the radioactive materials, and ensure any radiation emissions remain within regulations. Before transporting the fuel from the reactor site, NRC regulations require that the fuel be cooled for many years to minimize the radiation during transportation.
How will the used nuclear fuel be transported?
All shipments will be received at the Interim Storage Partners’ WCS CISF by rail and use the Waste Control Specialists site’s existing railroad infrastructure.
How many shipments are expected each year?
Our facility is designed and licensed to receive and store up to 100 casks in the first year, with a max capacity of 200 casks per year thereafter.
What are the expected transportation routes?
Shippers will work with the railroad operators, route states, the Department of Transportation, and other stakeholders to identify, designate, and prepare the rail routes for shipments. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission must pre-approve each transportation route in advance. Regulatory requirements include consideration of the most direct route, taking into consideration large cities, any geographical transport concerns, and the capabilities of the infrastructure to handle the used fuel railcar and cask weight.
Are the casks too heavy for the railroads?
The rail routes selected for transporting the used fuel casks to the Interim Storage Partners’ WCS CISF will be reviewed and certified for handling the weight.
We have heard that this used fuel is the most radioactive and harmful waste there is. How do we know people are protected along the rail routes and storage site?
Though used nuclear fuel is very radioactive, extensive and comprehensive safety measures have proven it to be one of the most securely managed and least harmful waste substances. Along with the significant oversight and regulations governing the transport and storage of used nuclear fuel in the U.S., we have a personal interest in making sure the men and women working with us and for us are protected, along with our families and the communities along the transportation rail routes and the storage site. NAC international, Orano and Waste Control Specialists have many years of experience regularly handling and transferring these canisters for utilities all over the country. Extensive research, testing and experience has shown that there is no credible way for this solid used fuel material to spread and cause harm in an accident, even one that somehow breaches both the robust transport cask and canister.
What is background radiation?
Radiation is a natural part of our environment and daily lives, and our bodies automatically manage our normal exposure. The normal exposure we all receive every day from “background sources” includes naturally occurring radon in our air, cosmic rays, radioactive rocks (granite) and soil, and even plants and food that are naturally high in potassium or other radioactive elements (bananas, carrots, avocados, Brazil nuts). The other normal background sources of radiation exposure are man-made, such as basic medical procedures and consumer products.
Is there a radiation risk to people and communities during the transport of casks containing used nuclear fuel? What about people who get stuck next to a stopped train that’s transporting fuel?
As decades of experience and activities have shown, there is very little risk from the used fuel transport casks to people or communities. The used nuclear fuel is securely contained and shielded to prevent any harm to the transport workers, the public and our site workers. All aspects of the transport process are monitored for exposure and must meet strict NRC and U.S. Department of Transportation regulations. This ensures that any radiation dose to any member of the public during routine used nuclear fuel transportation, including stops, is barely discernible compared to the public’s normal daily background radiation from rocks, radon gas, cosmic rays, and other natural sources. Radiation at very small levels is easy to detect and measure; monitoring during transport ensures all safety and security requirements are fulfilled.
Do harmful X-rays come out of the used fuel in the transport cask?
The cask shielding decreases any radiation to well within the required safety limits; no X-ray radiation is created or emitted.
Can a cask leak from an accident during transport?
NRC-certified transport casks, such as those that can be used to transport to the Interim Storage Partners’ WCS CISF, have never been breached or leaked from an accident, regardless of the transportation method. Extensive research, testing and experience by the NRC has shown that there is no credible way for this solid used fuel material to spread and cause harm in an accident, even one that somehow breaches both the transport cask and canister.
How are transport casks tested against potential accidents?
To be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the transport cask design has successfully demonstrated it will maintain containment (a leak-tight seal) and shielding (protection from radiation) during a cumulative sequence of accident scenarios, including drops or high-velocity impacts, punctures, intense fires, and immersion underwater. The metal canister holding the used fuel inside the cask provides an additional level of protection.
What about accidents with fires that burn hotter and longer than expected, or longer submersions, and impacts from different angles?
The fire accident scenario addressed by the regulations is a very conservative, bounding fire that includes three key attributes: temperature, duration, and that the package is fully engulfed in the flames for the entire duration. While a hypothetical fire may burn hotter or for a longer duration than the fire accident addressed in the regulations, what makes the regulatory fire bounding is that the package is fully engulfed for the duration of the fire. This is not likely to occur during an actual accident. Additionally, for any real-life experiences or accidents, the NRC reviews the cask design requirements to ensure they are conservative and cover those experiences.
What if an accident causes a used fuel transport cask to come off the rails?
The used fuel storage transport casks are very strong and resilient, and designed to make it highly unlikely they could sustain damage from an accident significant enough to be a concern. In two incidents in Europe where a used fuel transport cask was knocked off its mode of transport, the casks were carefully inspected and verified that they maintained their sealed integrity and continued to keep the fuel in a safe condition, and then lifted onto new transport for continued shipment. The NRC regulations for transport cask design address this concern.
What about used nuclear fuel that is damaged or high burn-up fuel?
The Transportation casks are designed to safely transport high burn-up fuel and are reviewed and approved by the NRC under 10 CFR Part 71 regulations. Damaged fuel is required to be confined within a basket compartment inside the canister with secondary containers or end caps. The accident scenarios in safety evaluations include the assumption that the fuel structures in the cask become damaged and broken, but analyses show this damage to the fuel does not prevent the rest of the system from performing any safety functions and continues to protect the public. In France alone, more than 21,000 high burn-up used fuel assemblies have been safely transported without incident to the La Hague reprocessing facility.
Why move the fuel at all?
Every year that the fuel remains at numerous sites throughout the U.S. costs taxpayers more money. The federal government has estimated the cost of this to be approximately $2.2 million per day. Utilities sue the Department of Energy to recover costs from maintaining these remaining used fuel storage sites. The DOE’s taxpayer-funded liabilities are projected to total $27.1 billion if the DOE does not have a permanent disposal facility by 2021. The proposed ISP consolidated storage site would allow used fuel to be removed from the reactor sites and stored at a significantly lower cost to the taxpayer.
Is there a radiation risk to people and surrounding communities from the additional storage at Waste Control Specialists of used nuclear fuel canisters?
No. The average potential man-made exposure for employees working on the Waste Control Specialists site is monitored and maintained at less than regulatory limits. Radiation exposure at the Waste Control Specialists site boundaries is well within regulations and indistinguishable from the region’s natural background radiation level.
With the increase in small earthquakes in the Permian Basin, including the same area as the planned high-level nuclear waste storage facility, how can you be sure the storage canisters will not be damaged and release radiation that harms people or negatively impacts our important oil and gas industries?
The storage systems planned for the ISP facility are designed to withstand extreme earthquakes significantly stronger than any in Texas’ history. These same storage systems have securely stored used nuclear fuel at sites all over the country for many decades, including in the Marcellus Shale region, and have maintained their sealed integrity through large earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, and floods. Additionally, the ISP NRC application includes consideration for potential induced regional seismicity.
Waste Control Specialists has only handled low-level waste. How can it handle high-level used nuclear fuel and radioactive waste?
The proposed Interim Storage Partners’ WCS CISF is a separate facility next to the existing Waste Control Specialists Operational area, and is being specifically designed for securely storing used nuclear fuel. Handling of used nuclear fuel is performed using only systems specifically engineered for that purpose and licensed by the NRC. The partner companies, Orano and NAC International, have decades of experience and expertise safely transporting and storing used nuclear fuel in the U.S. As shown by decades of secure used fuel management in the United States, proper handling of used nuclear fuel in the approved dry storage systems presents extremely low risk.
Storing used nuclear fuel at Waste Control Specialists is different from the site’s original agreement to accept only low-level waste; what changed and how were Andrews and the surrounding communities involved in this decision?
When Waste Control Specialists first started operations, there was not a strong push by communities and states for a consolidated used fuel storage solution. At the time, the proposed national repository at Yucca Mountain was slowly progressing, so there wasn’t a need for an alternative solution. When federal funding and progress on Yucca Mountain halted, a need for consolidated interim used fuel storage quickly became apparent. With a report published in 2014, the State of Texas and TCEQ began considering options for a consolidated interim storage facility, or CISF. Before proceeding with a CISF concept, Waste Control Specialists opened a discussion with the Andrews community to gather perspectives and identify any concerns with expanding Waste Control Specialists’ mission. This engagement included holding a community barbeque designed to encourage open and transparent communications. Through this dialogue, Waste Control Specialists confirmed there was community agreement to proceed and they continue to work to inform the community about the project.
Who is going to regulate the new facility?
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is responsible for reviewing and issuing a Part 72 license to operate a consolidated interim storage facility. The licensing and regulatory process is a thorough and lengthy process evaluating and ensuring the safety of the facility and the environment. During the facility’s design, construction and operations, the NRC will perform regular inspections in its oversight role. NRC has exclusive jurisdiction over regulation of used nuclear fuel. The State of Texas maintains active oversight of the existing Waste Control Specialists site and operations through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). TCEQ regulates all current site disposal operations at the Waste Control Specialists facilities in Andrews County and will continue to do so.
Who owns the used nuclear fuel during transport and storage at the Interim Storage Partners’ WCS CISF?
The title holders at the time of shipment of the used fuel will continue to hold title to the used fuel during transportation to and from and while in storage at the CISF.
You will be storing used nuclear fuel from all over the United States. To hold this large quantity, should Interim Storage Partners’ WCS CISF be designed differently than the original, smaller storage sites constructed at the nuclear power facilities?
Since each used fuel canister is stored in its own self-contained robust overpack, any concern with one canister would not affect the security or containment of used fuel stored in other canisters, no matter how many are on the same site. The CISF will operate under the same stringent oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as the original reactor storage sites.
Is ISP considering the HOSS system?
No, the Interim Storage Partners’ storage facility and operations will use proven, existing dry storage technology that satisfies all NRC security, technical and site requirements.
How will the storage site be kept secure? Wouldn’t this become a prime target for terrorism?
As with the existing multiple storage sites at operating and shutdown U.S. nuclear energy facilities, security will be highly regulated, comprehensive, and proactive with specialized training and defensive measures integrated with local, state and federal law enforcement. The hardened nature of the concrete overpacks makes the CISF an unattractive target for terrorism. The proposed CISF will implement security programs to detect and respond to intrusions, and promptly engage offsite assistance when necessary – in addition to what Waste Control Specialists currently has in place. The massive reinforced concrete storage overpacks with bolted shut enclosures are themselves a substantial security barrier. The multi-ton canister with welded stainless steel double lids cannot be easily extracted without specialized equipment, and even that process requires a few hours.
How do you plan to protect the dry fuel storage system against a cyberattack?
The storage systems are completely passive systems that do not require any electronic parts to operate and are not connected to computers or the internet.
Could the proposed CISF contaminate the Ogallala Aquifer?
ISP’s and Waste Control Specialists site analyses unequivocally demonstrate that the Ogallala Aquifer lies east of the WCS site and that there is no drinking water beneath the Waste Control Specialists site, including the Interim Storage Partners’ WCS CISF. The Texas Water Development Board has confirmed through their own studies that the sites are not above or adjacent to a drinking water source. In addition, Waste Control Specialists has an extensive monitoring program with more than 400 monitoring wells to ensure the safety of the community and environment at all times, and files both monthly and quarterly reports to the TCEQ. The Waste Control Specialists site was intentionally sited atop a 600-foot thick bed of red clay that is 10x less permeable than concrete and limits any horizontal groundwater travel to about 1 foot per 1,000 years.
There is already too much used fuel for Yucca Mountain to hold, if it does eventually proceed. That means much of the fuel will have to stay at the so-called “interim” sites.
A number of decades will have passed before Yucca Mountain or another repository comes near to being full, during which time our government and the states can develop the next strategy for used fuel management. The used nuclear fuel can be safely stored for the foreseeable future.
Isn’t this storage site just the first step to reprocessing the fuel?
No, the United States is not currently or planning to reprocess used nuclear fuel.
What economic benefit is there for Andrews and surrounding communities to store this waste?
For more than 20 years, WCS has been an active corporate citizen and steady employer for Andrews County and the surrounding communities. Through involvement, engagement and transparent communications, WCS stays connected with its neighbors and people seeking to better understand and appreciate the economic benefits WCS and its operations provide to both local communities and the State of Texas. The Interim Storage Partners’ WCS CISF will continue this commitment to outreach and transparency as its operations begin enhancing the WCS site’s economic benefits to the region.
Additionally, this CISF will create several new employment opportunities with competitive wages during construction and operation, estimated at more than $4 million in labor per year during this period. As part of our focus on efficient and safe operations, we will provide training to local law enforcement regarding transport and security of used nuclear fuel. By utilizing the established WCS facility and state-of-the-art technologies, the CISF will be well-positioned to continue WCS’ record of safety regarding the community and environment.