Texas Compact Facility Legislative Oversight Report Released

On December 1, 2018, the Joint Compact Facility Legislative Oversight Committee (Joint Committee) submitted its report on the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact (Texas Compact) facility to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development and the House Committee on Environmental Regulation.

The Joint Committee was established pursuant to House Bill (HB) 2662, which was passed by the 85th Legislature during the regular session.  The Joint Committee heard invited and public testimony during a scheduled hearing on September 6, 2018.

Charge

Since opening in 2012, Waste Control Specialists (WCS) has operated at a loss.  According to the Joint Committee’s report, “there is continued concern that the current regulatory scheme, including fee allocation, is prohibitively cumbersome and that it may prevent any owner of the Facility from operating at a profit.”

The following is the charge for the Joint Committee pursuant to HB 2662:

Assessment of the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact facility to include recommendations relating to costs, fees, and any other matters the legislative oversight committee determines are relevant to the compact facility and oversight of the compact facility. Report must include the results of the assessment.

Recommendations

The following overview of the Joint Committee’s recommendations includes detailed excerpts from the report.  Interested stakeholders seeking additional information should review the report in its entirety.

  • Waste Disposal Rates for In-Compact Generators The Joint Committee recognized the intent of the rate rule, while acknowledging that current compliance regulations pose a risk to the financial viability of a private operator.  The Joint Committee expressed a desire to retain the spirit of the rate rule by providing low prices to in-compact generators, but recognized that the contract review process has proven to be an impediment to WCS’s desire to participate in the free market for out-of-compact waste.  In the Committee’s discussion of the rate rule and pricing issue, a number of possible solutions were developed to the issues posed by the rate rule. The proposals included accepting WCS’ request to untether non-compact waste from the rate rule; creating a floating rate that is more adaptable to market conditions; and, developing quicker mechanisms to ensure compliance.
  • Contract Review The Joint Committee expressed concerns with allowing private companies to audit another private company with whom they are actively negotiating contracts due to the inequitable negotiating position in which WCS would be placed.  The Joint Committee further expressed concerns with adopting an alternative compliance mechanism without specificity in how it would be implemented.  Absent a sufficient regulatory framework, if in-compact generators and WCS ever disagreed on compliance with a contract, a potential for routine litigation may be created.  The Joint Committee recognized that untethering the out-of-compact rates would eliminate the need for a cumbersome contract review process.  The Joint Committee also discussed statutory changes that would allow TCEQ to review an aggregation of contracts rather than reviewing them on an individual basis.  Practically speaking, TCEQ would review both in-compact and out-of-compact contracts over a certain period of time and compare the average rates for each to verify compliance.
  • Fees and Surcharges The Joint Committee discussed the amount and purpose of the fees and surcharges assessed on both in-compact and out-of-compact waste.  The Joint Committee recognized that the default surcharge levels of 36.25% and 16.25% are excessive, especially in light of WCS’s competitor’s surcharges, and found that a reduction in fees may be reasonable.  The Joint Committee further recognized that reducing the surcharges would result in an increase in both in-compact and out-of-compact waste because WCS would be able to offer more competitive rates.  The Joint Committee considered that despite reducing the surcharges, the state might actually receive a greater financial benefit due to the increased volume of waste disposed that would be incentivized by lower surcharges.
  • Waste Disposal Capacity The Joint Committee recognized the balancing that is needed to ensure there is capacity for in-compact generators while also allowing WCS to accept imported waste to finance the operation and expansion of the facility.  In discussing this balance, a number of suggestions were made.  One suggestion was to aggregate the 275,000 annual curie limit over ten years, meaning the limit on imported waste would be 2.75 million curies over ten years.  This would provide WCS with the flexibility to bid on potential larger contracts without eliminating or increasing the average annual curie limit.  The Joint Committee noted that ARDT is requesting that capacity be guaranteed for in-compact waste without a guarantee that the in-compact generators will use the CWF instead of the alternative disposal and storage options.  Furthermore, imposing such a requirement necessarily requires a capital investment by WCS, while at the same time impeding their ability to compete for profit generating contracts.  In light of this, the Joint Committee also discussed imposing “take or pay” provisions.  This would require the in-compact generators to either use the facility or pay a fee for not meeting certain disposal quotas.  This would likely be based on ARDT’s suggested operational trigger that considers average historic volume disposed.  Requiring the in-compact generators to prepay for capacity was also an option discussed.  This would provide WCS with the capital necessary to build out capacity and also serve to incentivize in-compact generators to use the facility.
  • Fixed Costs/Costs of a State-Operated Facility The Joint Committee discussed alternatives to having a private operator for the CWF as it currently exists.  The Joint Committee unanimously expressed concerns regarding the potential cost if the state were to operate the CWF.  Furthermore, when specifically asked if TCEQ possesses the requisite expertise to manage and operate a CWF, TCEQ acknowledged that they do not.  The Joint Committee recognized that no existing state agency or office has the requisite expertise or ability to maintain and operate a CWF.  The state would thus need to appropriate funds to secure a contractor to operate the site on the state’s behalf.
  • Contingency Plan In response to the testimony provided by the Texas Compact Commission, the Joint Committee expressed serious concerns that a comprehensive contingency plan has yet to be developed, notwithstanding the Commission’s reservations about directing the state to take prescribed actions without input from a designated state office or agency.  While the Joint Committee recognized that the Texas Compact Commission does not have authority to access funds to implement the plan, it stated that the legislature could appropriate those funds separately, should the need arise to implement the plan.

Background

Texas and Vermont are currently members of Texas Compact for the purposes of assuring that each state is able to efficiently and safely dispose of low-level radioactive waste.  Per the terms of the Texas Compact, the State of Texas serves as the host state, meaning that Texas is responsible for providing a CWG to dispose of low-level waste generated within each state.  In exchange for serving as the host state, Texas received $25 million from Vermont.  The Texas Compact created the Texas Compact Commission whose primary responsibility is to ensure capacity at the CWF is available for the in-compact generators.

By far the largest generators of low-level waste are the nuclear power plants in each state.  There are two operational plants located in Texas and one plant in Vermont, the latter of which is expected to begin decommissioning in late 2019.  Other generators include universities and hospitals and research facilities.  The in-compact generators are represented by ARDT.

The Texas Compact creates a distinction between “in-compact waste” and “imported waste” or “non- compact waste.”  In-compact waste refers to waste generated from within the member states of Texas and Vermont.  Imported waste, or non-compact waste, is waste generated in any other state.  There are currently 34 states that are not in a compact or do not have a facility at which they can dispose of certain classes of low-level waste, namely Class B and Class C waste.

In order to satisfy Texas’ obligations under the Texas Compact, the state initially took steps to develop a CWF known as the Sierra Blanca site in Hudspeth County.  The site was ultimately unsuccessful in obtaining a license from the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC).  Subsequently, the legislature created a regulatory structure that allowed for a private operator to receive a permit to construct and operate the CWF.  WCS applied for, and was granted, a permit from the TCEQ – the regulatory agency responsible for permitting radioactive waste in Texas. WCS then financed the construction of the CWF, understanding that the state assumes legal liability for the waste buried at the CWF.

For additional information, please contact Texas Compact Commission Executive Director Leigh Ing at (512) 305-8941 or at leigh.ing@tllrwdcc.org

Comment Period Extended re Proposed Texas Interim Storage Facility

On October 19, 2018, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced that the agency has extended the public comment period on the scope of its environmental review of an application by Interim Storage Partners to construct and operate a Consolidated Interim Storage Facility (CISF) for spent nuclear fuel in Andrews County, Texas.  The new deadline for comment is November 19, 2018.

The extension was announced at 83 Federal Register 53,115 (October 19, 2018).

Project History

Waste Control Specialists (WCS) initially filed the application in April 2016.  However, in April 2017, WCS requested that the NRC suspend its review pending the anticipated sale of the company. In January 2018, WCS was sold to J.F. Lehman & Co.  In March 2018, WCS and international nuclear supplier Orano formed Interim Storage Partners as a joint venture to take over the spent fuel storage project.  The new company submitted a revised application to the NRC in June 2018.

When NRC’s review was suspended last year, the staff was in the process of receiving public comment on the scope of its environmental review and had issued a notice of opportunity for an adjudicatory hearing.  (See LLW Notes, January/February 2017, pp. 18-19.)  According to NRC’s press release, those processes will now resume.  The staff will consider all comments previously received on the scope of the environmental review.

Review Process

The NRC completed its administrative review of the revised application and informed Interim Storage Partners of its decision to resume the review in a letter dated August 21, 2018.  The staff expects to complete its safety, security and environmental reviews in the summer of 2020.

On September 4, 2018, the NRC published a notice in the Federal Register requesting additional public comment on environmental issues to be considered in its environmental impact statement.  (See 83 Federal Register 44, 922.)  Comments will be accepted through October 19, 2018.

In a separate notice that was published in the Federal Register on August 29, 2018 – and then subsequently corrected in a Federal Register notice that was published on August 31, 2019 – the NRC announced an opportunity to request a hearing through October 29, 2018.  The notices include detailed instructions on how to file a hearing request or submit public comment.

Background

On April 28, 2016, WCS filed an application seeking a 40-year license for a CISF to receive spent fuel from nuclear reactors for storage, pending final disposal.  (See LLW Notes, May/June 2016, pp. 16-17.)  Specifically, WCS requested authorization to construct and operate a CISF at the company’s 60.3 square kilometer (14,900 acre) site in western Andrews County, Texas.  On this site, WCS currently operates facilities that process and store certain types of radioactive material—mainly low-level radioactive waste and mixed waste.  The facility also disposes of hazardous and toxic waste.

According to the application, WCS plans to construct the CISF in eight phases.  Phase one of the CISF would be designed to provide storage for up to 5,000 metric tons uranium (MTU) of spent nuclear fuel received from commercial nuclear power reactors across the United States.  WCS proposes that small amounts of mixed oxide spent fuels and Greater-Than-Class C (GTCC) low-level radioactive wastes also be stored at the CISF.  WCS stated that it would design each subsequent phase of the CISF to store up to an additional 5,000 MTU.  A total of up to 40,000 MTU would be stored at the site by the completion of the final phase.  Each phase would require NRC review and approval.

WCS would receive canisters containing spent nuclear fuel from the reactor sites.  Once accepted at the site, WCS would transfer them into onsite dry cask storage systems.  WCS plans to employ dry cask storage system technology that has been licensed by the NRC pursuant to 10 CFR Part 72 at various commercial nuclear reactors across the country.  According to WCS, the dry cask storage systems proposed for use at the CISF would be passive systems (i.e., not relying on any moving parts) and would provide physical protection, containment, nuclear criticality controls and radiation shielding required for the safe storage of the spent nuclear fuel.  WCS also states that the dry cask storage systems would be located on top of the concrete pads constructed at the CISF.

For additional information, please contact David McIntyre of the NRC at (301) 415-8200.

Southwestern Compact Commission Hosts 79th Meeting

On October 5, 2018, the Southwestern Low-Level Radioactive Waste Commission hosted its 79th meeting beginning in Sacramento, California.

The following topics, among others, were on the meeting agenda:

  • call to order — moment of silence in honor of former Chair Aubrey Godwin;
  • roll call;
  • welcome and introductions;
  • statement regarding due notice of meeting;
  • reports, status and/or activity;
    • Commission Chair;
    • Executive Director;
    • licensing agency;
    • license designee; and,
    • party states;
  • updates of decommissioning — San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS);
  • exportation actions and reports;
    • ratification of approved petitions E18-104-135 and WCS18-044-085;
    • amend “Policy of the Southwestern Low-Level Radioactive Waste Commission Regarding Exportation of Various Low-Level Radioactive Waste Streams” to extend effective date;
    • amend “Requirements for Exportation Petitions for Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal” to extend effective date; and,
    • approve new petitions forms and dates;
  • update and action on Low-Level Radioactive Waste Forum (LLW Forum) and Commissioners report on activities;
  • review, discuss and action regarding transition of legal counsel, bylaws, current forms, resolutions and agreements;
  • legal review, action for Commissioner appointments;
  • financial audit report by Miers & Miers;
  • Executive Session pursuant to CA Gov. Code §11126(a)(1) to discuss staff performance evaluations;
  • review and approve Counsel’s contracts;
  • Annual Governor’s Report review and approve;
  • discuss and amend potential changes to fiscal year 2018-19 budget;
  • approve fiscal year 2019-20 budget;
  • adopt fee schedule – discussion/action;
  • public comment;
  • election of officers;
  • future agenda items;
  • next meeting – potential tour of Waste Control Specialists (WCS); and,
  • adjournment.

 

Members of the public were invited to attend the meeting and comment on specific agenda items as the Commission considered them.  The total public comment time on each agenda item was limited to 15 minutes.  Written material was also accepted.  A 15-minute public comment period was provided near the end of the meeting at which time members of the public were invited to bring before the Commission issues relating to low-level radioactive waste but which were not on the agenda.

For additional information, please contact Kathy Davis, Executive Director of the Southwestern Compact Commission, at (916) 448-2390 or at swllrwcc@swllrwcc.org.

Southwestern Compact Commission Hosts 76th Meeting

On October 6, 2017, the Southwestern Low-Level Radioactive Waste Commission hosted its 76th meeting beginning at 9:00 a.m. PDT at the Hyatt Regency in Sacramento, California.

The following topics, among others, were on the meeting agenda:

  • call to order;
  • roll call;
  • welcome and introductions—announce retirement of Commissioner Godwin, introduce Brian Goretzki of Arizona;
  • statement regarding due notice of meeting;
  • reports, status and/or activity;
    • Commission Chair;
    • Executive Director;
    • licensing agency;
    • license designee; and,
    • party states.
  • discuss and potential action on Low-Level Radioactive Waste Forum (LLW Forum) activities (i.e., sponsorship, membership, workshop, future agendas and participation);
  • update and status of EnergySolutions, Waste Control Specialists (WCS) and SONGS;
  • discuss activities and potential action on Reutilization and Reuse Program;
  • exportation actions;
  • ratification of approved petitions;
    • amend “Policy of the Southwestern Low-Level Radioactive Waste Commission Regarding Exportation of Various Low-Level Radioactive Waste Streams” to extend effective date;
    • amend “Requirements for Exportation Petitions for Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal” to extend effective date; and,
    • review and amend petitions forms.
  • financial audit report by Miers & Miers;
  • Executive Session pursuant to CA Gov. Code §11126(a)(1) to discuss staff performance evaluations;
  • review and approve Executive Director’s and Counsel’s contracts;
  • review and approve Annual Governor’s Report;
  • amend fiscal year 2017-18 budget;
  • approve fiscal year 2018-19 budget;
  • review and approve Office Procedures Manual;
  • review and approve Southwestern By-Laws;
  • adopt fee schedule;
  • public comment;
  • election of officers;
  • future agenda items;
  • next meetings; and,
  • adjournment.

Members of the public were invited to attend the meeting and comment on specific agenda items as the Commission considered them.  The total public comment time on each agenda item was limited to 15 minutes.  Written material was also accepted.  A 15-minute public comment period was provided near the end of the meeting at which time members of the public were invited to bring before the Commission issues relating to low-level radioactive waste but which were not on the agenda.

For additional information, please contact Kathy Davis, Executive Director of the Southwestern Compact Commission, at (916) 448-2390 or at swllrwcc@swllrwcc.org.

WCS Places Spent Fuel Storage Application on Hold

By letter dated mid-April 2017, Waste Control Specialists (WCS) asked the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to temporarily suspend the agency’s review of its application to construct and operate a spent nuclear fuel Consolidated Interim Storage Facility (CISF) in Andrews County, Texas.

WSC “is faced with a magnitude of financial burdens that currently make pursuit of licensing unsupportable,” Rod Baltzer, the company’s President and CEO, said in a letter to the NRC dated April 16, 2017.  According to Baltzer, the estimated $7.5 million that is needed to continue the licensing process was a significant factor in WCS’ decision.  The following day, NRC announced that it would freeze the review.

The request comes as EnergySolutions is trying to buy WCS, although the U.S. Department of Justice has sued to block the merger, arguing it would essentially create a monopoly on radioactive waste disposal.  “WCS expects to go forward with this project at the earliest possible opportunity after completion of the sale,” Baltzer said in a statement.

In the meantime, on March 16, 2017, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced that the agency was providing additional opportunities for the public to comment on the CISF application that was submitted by WCS.

Background

On April 28, 2016, WCS filed an application seeking a 40-year license for a CISF to receive spent fuel from nuclear reactors for storage, pending final disposal.  (See LLW Notes, May/June 2016, pp. 16-17.)  Specifically, WCS is requesting authorization to construct and operate a CISF at the company’s 60.3 square kilometer (14,900 acre) site in western Andrews County, Texas.  On this site, WCS currently operates facilities that process and store certain types of radioactive material—mainly low-level radioactive waste and mixed waste.  The facility also disposes of hazardous and toxic waste.

According to the application, WCS plans to construct the CISF in eight phases.  Phase one of the CISF would be designed to provide storage for up to 5,000 metric tons uranium (MTU) of spent nuclear fuel received from commercial nuclear power reactors across the United States.  WCS proposes that small amounts of mixed oxide spent fuels and Greater-Than-Class C (GTCC) low-level radioactive wastes also be stored at the CISF.  WCS stated that it would design each subsequent phase of the CISF to store up to an additional 5,000 MTU.  A total of up to 40,000 MTU would be stored at the site by the completion of the final phase.  Each phase would require NRC review and approval.

WCS would receive canisters containing spent nuclear fuel from the reactor sites.  Once accepted at the site, WCS would transfer them into onsite dry cask storage systems.  WCS plans to employ dry cask storage system technology that has been licensed by the NRC pursuant to 10 CFR Part 72 at various commercial nuclear reactors across the country.  According to WCS, the dry cask storage systems proposed for use at the CISF would be passive systems (i.e., not relying on any moving parts) and would provide physical protection, containment, nuclear criticality controls and radiation shielding required for the safe storage of the spent nuclear fuel.  WCS also states that the dry cask storage systems would be located on top of the concrete pads constructed at the CISF.

For additional information, please contact Maureen Conley of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission at (301) 415-8200.

NRC to Review WCS Application re Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage Facility

On January 26, 2017, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced that the agency has docketed and accepted for formal review an application from Waste Control Specialists (WCS) to build and operate a spent nuclear fuel Consolidated Interim Storage Facility (CISF) in Andrews, Texas.  The NRC’s decision follows an acceptance review to determine whether the application contains sufficient information for the agency to begin its formal review.

WCS is seeking to store 5,000 metric tons uranium of spent fuel received from commercial nuclear power reactors across the United States.

Overview

NRC’s review will proceed on two parallel tracks—one on safety issues and the other on environmental issues.  Both the safety and environmental reviews must be completed before the NRC makes a final licensing decision on the application.

In a letter to WCS dated January 26, 2017, the NRC set a schedule for its safety and environmental reviews.  The schedule sets a target of making a licensing decision by the third quarter of fiscal year 2019—assuming that WCS provides high-quality responses, on schedule, to any NRC requests for additional information.

Interested stakeholders will have 60 days from publication of a notice of docketing in the Federal Register, which will appear shortly, to submit requests for a hearing and petition to intervene in the licensing proceeding for the proposed facility.  Details on how to submit those requests and petitions will be in the Federal Register notice.

The NRC’s letter to WCS is available on the agency’s website at https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1701/ML17018A168.pdf.

Public Meetings

The NRC will hold the following two public meetings near the site of the proposed CISF to take public comments on the scope of the environmental review:

  • Hobbs, New Mexico:  Lea County Event Center (5101 N. Lovington Highway) from 7:00 – 10:00 p.m. MT on February 13, 2017
  • Andrews, Texas:  James Roberts Center (855 TX-176) from 7:00 – 10:00 p.m. CT on February 15, 2017

Stakeholders that are interested in attending or speaking are encouraged to pre-register by calling (301) 415- 6957 no later than three days prior to the scheduled meetings.  The public may also register in person at each meeting.  The time allowed for each speaker may be limited, depending on the number of registered speakers.

The NRC is also planning to hold additional scoping meetings at the agency’s headquarters in Rockville, Maryland during the week following the local meetings.  Details for these meetings are still being finalized.

Information about the public meetings will be posted to the NRC public meetings schedule on the agency’s website at www.nrc.gov.

Submitting Comments

Interested stakeholders can submit comments on the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the CISF as follows:

  • Federal Rulemaking Website: Electronic provide comments at regulations.gov
  • Mail:  Send comments to Cindy Bladey, Office of Administration, Mail Stop: OWFN-12 H08, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555-0001

Written comments should refer to Docket ID NRC-2016-0231.  The NRC will accept public comments through March 13, 2017.

Background

On April 28, 2016, WCS filed an application seeking a 40-year license for a CISF to receive spent fuel from nuclear reactors for storage, pending final disposal.  (See LLW Notes, May/June 2016, pp. 16-17.)  Specifically, WCS is requesting authorization to construct and operate a CISF at the company’s 60.3 square kilometer (14,900 acre) site in western Andrews County, Texas.  On this site, WCS currently operates facilities that process and store certain types of radioactive material—mainly low-level radioactive waste and mixed waste.  The facility also disposes of hazardous and toxic waste.

According to the application, WCS plans to construct the CISF in eight phases.  Phase one of the CISF would be designed to provide storage for up to 5,000 metric tons uranium (MTU) of spent nuclear fuel received from commercial nuclear power reactors across the United States.  WCS proposes that small amounts of mixed oxide spent fuels and Greater-Than-Class C (GTCC) low-level radioactive wastes also be stored at the CISF.  WCS stated that it would design each subsequent phase of the CISF to store up to an additional 5,000 MTU.  A total of up to 40,000 MTU would be stored at the site by the completion of the final phase.  Each phase would require NRC review and approval.

WCS would receive canisters containing spent nuclear fuel from the reactor sites.  Once accepted at the site, WCS would transfer them into onsite dry cask storage systems.  WCS plans to employ dry cask storage system technology that has been licensed by the NRC pursuant to 10 CFR Part 72 at various commercial nuclear reactors across the country.  According to WCS, the dry cask storage systems proposed for use at the CISF would be passive systems (i.e., not relying on any moving parts) and would provide physical protection, containment, nuclear criticality controls and radiation shielding required for the safe storage of the spent nuclear fuel.  WCS also states that the dry cask storage systems would be located on top of the concrete pads constructed at the CISF.

For additional information, please contact Maureen Conley of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission at (301) 415-8200.