The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has granted a license to Holtec International, a private company, allowing them to construct and operate a temporary nuclear waste storage facility for power plants. This decision comes despite a New Mexico state law that could potentially obstruct the project.
The NRC has authorized Holtec to store 500 canisters containing almost 8,700 metric tonnes of spent nuclear fuel from power plants for a duration of 40 years. The company’s long-term plan is to store up to 10,000 canisters through an additional 19 phases.
The NRC stated that each expansion phase would necessitate a license amendment, accompanied by further safety and environmental reviews. The Biden administration considers the preservation and expansion of the U.S. nuclear reactor fleet, along with the development of new technologies, crucial in the battle against climate change. However, critics of nuclear power argue that the government has not yet devised a permanent solution for handling the waste, which can remain toxic for hundreds of thousands of years.
Holtec’s plans could be complicated by a New Mexico state law, set to take effect on June 15, which prohibits the storage of nuclear waste until the state agrees to manage it and the federal government establishes permanent storage. The Obama administration previously terminated the Yucca Mountain waste site in Nevada, originally intended as a permanent repository, due to opposition from state politicians.
The Biden administration currently favors a consent-based approach to siting nuclear waste facilities, which involves local communities in the site selection process. Pat O’Brien, a Holtec spokesperson, said, “What a path forward and timeline looks like is still to be determined.” O’Brien also noted that “strong local support” from New Mexico counties bolsters the company’s confidence in the project’s viability.
In 2021, the NRC issued a license to Interim Storage Partners LLC for a proposed storage site in Andrews, Texas. However, construction at the Texas site has not yet commenced.