Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Waste Control Specialists to Host Used Nuclear Fuel

WasteControlSpecialists Yesterday, we teased that NEI and Waste Control Specialists were having a press conference at the National Press Club. So what’s the deal there?

Valhi, Inc. subsidiary Waste Control Specialists LLC ("WCS"), announced today that on the close of business February 6, 2015, it sent a notification to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ("NRC") expressing its intent to apply for a license for the interim storage of used nuclear fuel at its facility in Andrews County, Texas. 

The need for such a facility arises as a result of the ongoing decades long search for a disposal solution for the nation's used nuclear fuel.  In 2012 the presidential-appointed Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future issued a report recommending that at least one interim storage facility be sited in the U.S., while a permanent disposal site is being developed.

We mentioned the Blue Ribbon Commission yesterday, but I thought a little better of it afterward. What the BRC did was gather up a bunch of ideas and recommend those its members thought might point a direction forward on used fuel storage. As far as I know, it didn’t create any of these ideas, it collated them into a report. I’d heard many of the BRC’s conclusions for years prior to its formation.

Still, the long-disbanded commission has informed the discussion about used fuel since 2012, when it issued its report, something Nasdaq is picking up on here.

"This will be a community supported, consent-based facility - just as are our current nuclear disposal facilities," Lindquist said.

That’s BRC language, so WCS seems well aware that it is operating within a framework that has found broad support. That’s pretty smart.

Why WCS? Well, storing radioactive material is in its wheelhouse and if you have a business, you look for ways to expand it.

"This is a unique opportunity for WCS to provide a viable solution to the industry's needs," said William J. Lindquist, Chief Executive Officer of WCS.  "We already offer the only one-stop shop for low-level radioactive waste ("LLRW") storage, processing and disposal and with this development we will be in a position to provide a comprehensive solution for the entire range of waste produced in the nuclear fuel cycle."


Speaking of consent-based, how are Texas leaders receiving this news? The Texas Tribune takes a look:

Several Texas officials have welcomed the idea of bringing the waste to Texas. That includes former Gov. Rick Perry, who last year wrote, “We have no choice but to begin looking for a safe and secure solution for [high-level waste] in Texas.”

Last year, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, instructed lawmakers to study the economic potential of storing highly radioactive nuclear waste in Texas.

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, told The Texas Tribune in a statement that he continues to support the Yucca Mountain project but “while we continue to debate the topic in Washington we need to develop interim storage facilities.”

“I think putting one of these facilities in Texas is a good idea, as long as the community and its leaders, including city council and county commissioners, welcome it,” the statement said.

That’s not bad. Andrews County is represented by Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas). I couldn’t find anything about this at his site, but EENews has it covered:

WCS appears to have support in the Lone Star State. Last month, Andrews County commissioners unanimously passed a resolution in support of WCS's efforts. House Agriculture Chairman Michael Conaway (R-Texas), whose district includes the site, said WCS offers the "ideal workforce, geography and geology" for an interim solution that could lead to an ultimate resolution.

That’s pretty darned consent-based. I was a little concerned that the actual citizenry (about 17,000 strong in Andrews County) is not heard from in the stories I surveyed, but they certainly have recourse and can throw the bums out if bums they become. There’s little evidence of it, though, and WCS is well-established in the county. I doubt the NRC will stint on public hearings, where everyone can have a say on what will be, after all, a first-of-its-kind facility. 

Conaway also mentions the workforce opportunities – the average salary in Andrews country is about $34,000, so I expect (though I don’t know for sure) that these will be among the higher paid jobs in the county.

EENews also gives some inches to this:

Environmental groups and consumer advocates continue to raise questions about the site's hydrogeology.

Which is fine – questions should be raised. WCS will have to come up with an environmental report for the NRC, so we’ll understand a lot more then. (And honesty, we understand a lot now. From NEI’s press release: “The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality subsequently analyzed the challenges of developing a consolidated storage facility. It concluded in a 2014 report that such a facility in Texas would, as stated in the county’s resolution, ‘offer electricity consumers significant savings compared to storage at each nuclear power plant’ and that a facility is “not only feasible but could be highly successful.’”)


All in all, this is spectacular news – not a complete solution for used nuclear fuel, but a very important step toward that solution. If Congress follows the BRC (more-or-less) in crafting a nuclear energy policy, then what WCS is doing will be right in the groove. Even if Congress chooses a different direction, this interim storage facility still promises to be a significant contribution to one of the thornier issues involving used fuel. We can’t wait for this project to move forward.


WCS has set up a Web site on this. NEI, which hosted WCS at the Press Club, has a press release. And NEI will post some videos later this week on its YouTube channel. If you haven’t subscribed to it, you really should – it’s been very active lately with all the interesting events taking place. Lamar Alexander, WCS, the IEA report – and it’s only February!

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