FAQs

HI-STORE Consolidated Interim Story Facility

General Information

  • What is spent/used nuclear fuel?

    Used nuclear fuel is a solid material, in the form of ceramic pellets stacked in metal tubes. There is no liquid in used nuclear fuel. Each pellet is about the size of a pencil eraser. The pellets are stacked inside long metal tubes approximately 12-foot long, which are sealed on each end to form a fuel rod. Between 100 and 300 fuel rods are arranged in a square pattern to form a fuel assembly. There are typically between 120 and 800 assemblies inside a reactor core. A used fuel storage cask may contain up to 89 assemblies.

  • How is used nuclear fuel stored?

    A single fuel assembly spends about five years in a reactor on average, powering the system that generates electricity. Typically, every 18 to 24 months, a nuclear plant stops generating electricity to replace a third of its fuel assemblies. The removed assemblies are placed in a spent fuel pool where they cool over time. After the used fuel assemblies have cooled to the point that they no longer need to be stored underwater, they are removed from the pools and safely stored at the plant in canisters that are strength welded closed, inside large containers made of steel and concrete. Three nuclear plants in the U.S. store their used nuclear fuel in a similar below grade configuration to that of the HI-STORE CISF.

Background and History

  • What is the history of used nuclear fuel storage?

    The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (NWPA) codified the U.S. Department of Energy’s responsibility for developing a geologic repository for used nuclear fuel. In 2002, the president and Congress approved Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the site for this repository. In 2010, however, the DOE shut down the Yucca Mountain project without citing any technical or safety issues. In contrast, decades of scientific study had consistently concluded that the proposed repository could safely protect future generations. At the time, $12 billion had already been spent on Yucca Mountain and 65,000 metric tons of spent fuel were in temporary storage across 39 states. In 2014, a federal court ordered the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to complete safety and environmental reviews of the site. While these reviews have since concluded that Yucca Mountain complies with all regulations, a final decision awaits an extensive formal hearing. That hearing can’t happen until Congress funds it.

    In response, the industry began responding through what is known as interim/temporary fuel storage. Title 10, Part 51.23(a), Code of Federal Regulations. § 51.23 Temporary storage of spent fuel after cessation of reactor operation–generic determination of no significant environmental impact. (a) The Commission has made a generic determination that, if necessary, spent fuel generated in any reactor can be stored safely and without significant environmental impacts for at least 30 years beyond the licensed life for operation (which may include the term of a revised or renewed license) of that reactor at its spent fuel storage basin or at either onsite or offsite independent spent fuel storage installations. Further, the Commission believes there is reasonable assurance that at least one mined geologic repository will be available within the first quarter of the twenty-first century, and sufficient repository capacity will be available within 30 years beyond the licensed life for operation of any reactor to dispose of the commercial high-level waste and spent fuel originating in such reactor and generated up to that time.

  • Why do we need Consolidated Interim Storage?

    Every nuclear plant stores used fuel on site as the industry awaits the completion of either a consolidated interim storage site or permanent disposal repository by the federal government. Taxpayers are assessed $800 million annually ($2.2 million per day) because of the federal government’s failure to meet its obligation to dispose of used fuel that currently resides at nuclear plants across the country creating a liability that has cost American taxpayers $6.9 billion through 2017.

    By their own estimates, the DOE indicates that their total liability is estimated at $34.1 billion. If the government does not find a way to begin satisfying their obligations by 2022. the DOE estimates that the liability will increase by approximately $500 million per year This money is paid out of the U.S. Treasury’s Judgement Fund – a source funded by all taxpayers, regardless of their source of energy, not through an appropriations process or from utility ratepayers.

    On-site storage of used nuclear fuel at nuclear power plants was never intended to be permanent. Spent nuclear fuel is being stored at 121 different facilities in 39 states. Each facility has its own security, operations, and maintenance requirements. A single facility would be beneficial because it would consolidate security, operations, and maintenance resources. Also, at some nuclear plant sites, all that remains following the decommissioning and dismantlement of the reactor and other buildings, is the used nuclear fuel. These communities cannot redevelop these former plant sites, resulting in the loss of millions in tax revenue every year.

Solution

  • What is the HI-STORE CISF?

    Holtec International and its partner, the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance (ELEA), LLC, have launched the licensing of an autonomous consolidated interim storage facility (CISF) in southeastern New Mexico on land owned by ELEA, LLC. The facility, named HI-STORE CISF, will provide a significant step on the path to resolve the nation’s long standing used nuclear fuel storage problem by providing a safe, secure, temporary, retrievable, and centralized facility for storage of used nuclear fuel and high level radioactive waste. The HI-STORE CISF seeks to fulfill the goal to aggregate the used nuclear fuel canisters presently scattered across the country at dozens of independent used fuel storage installations into one suitable location. The license application for the HI-STORE CISF was submitted to the USNRC on March 31, 2017 and accepted by the USNRC in February 2018 (USNRC Docket No. 72-1051).

    The initial application for the HI-STORE facility includes storage of up to 8,680 metric tons of uranium in commercial used fuel (500 canisters) with future amendments for additional canisters up to 10,000 storage locations. The U.S. currently has more than 80,000 metric tons of used nuclear fuel in storage and more is being generated every day at a rate of 2,000 metric-tons per year.

  • What is HI-STORM UMAX?

    HI-STORE will employ Holtec’s HI-STORM UMAX used fuel storage system, the most secure and safest technology licensed by the USNRC, which will store the canisters bearing the used fuel in a dry, below-grade configuration with unrestricted capability to retrieve and move the canisters at any time during the facility’s life. The HI-STORM UMAX technology was first licensed by the USNRC in 2015 (USNRC Docket No 72-1040). Already in use in the U.S., the HI-STORM UMAX is a system that provides the utmost protection to the environment and superior radiation shielding for workers and the public by storing the canisters in below-grade steel enclosures covered by heavy lids, where each enclosure contains one canister in a vertical orientation.

  • Is the HI-STORE CISF the permanent solution for storage of used nuclear fuel?

    No. HI-STORE CISF is temporary storage, complementary to a permanent deep repository. Under federal law, DOE has the undivided responsibility to perform construction of and transport the fuel to the repository.

  • How long will the Holtec dry storage system last?

    The life expectancy of the stainless-steel canister, which is the primary containment of the spent nuclear fuel, varies based on the environment. Conservative estimates put the life expectancy of the canister at hundreds of years. As part of the aging management program, there are regular inspections of canisters that will check the entire surface of a single canister, or part of the surface of multiple canisters. If these inspections would ever indicate an imperfection or crack, canisters would be re-packaged before a crack could propagate and a leak occur. There is sufficient time to re-package the canister since it would take many years for a crack to develop into a leak.

Economics

  • How does the State of New Mexico benefit from hosting the HI-STORE CISF?

    The HI-STORE CISF is a $2.4 Billion capital investment to be spent in the State of New Mexico that is expected to provide 100 construction jobs for 10 years (payroll of approximately $21 million annually), 100 permanent security, operations and maintenance jobs (payroll of approximately $10 million annually), approximately $1.5 million in state income taxes annually, $155 million in economic stimulus, and an incentive payment of approximately $17 million or more to the local community and State.

  • What financial assurance does Holtec International need to provide for this project?

    Under federal law, a decommissioning fund is established to cover the cost of demolition and remediation of the facility once it reaches the end of its life.

Safety/Security

  • Will there be security at the HI-STORE CISF?

    Yes. Robust security measures are required by law at facilities regulated by the U.S. NRC. Beginning with Holtec’s storage technology, the HI-STORM UMAX is an inherently secure, robust structure below grade made of concrete with silos where the canister containing the used fuel will reside. The HI-STORM UMAX is built to withstand hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes. Storing the strength-welded canister containing the used fuel completely below grade removes any target that an airplane or missile could hit. The specific security capabilities required by the U.S. NRC are compartmented, and not available to the general public. It can be said that the measures will include a well-trained and armed security force, physical barriers, proper lighting, and intrusion detection and surveillance systems. Holtec will also coordinate security with Local, State, and Federal Agencies. Because the HI-STORM UMAX is a very low-profile storage system (less than 3 feet from the ground) a security guard can see from one side of the storage facility to the other with no obstructions.

  • Will an airplane or other missile damage the used nuclear fuel?

    An airplane or other missile will not damage the used nuclear fuel. The HI-STORM UMAX, the used fuel storage system to be used at the HI-STORE CISF, is an inherently secure and robust structure. The silos where the canister containing the used fuel will reside are below grade and made of steel surrounded by concrete. The HI-STORM UMAX is built to withstand hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes. Storing the strength-welded canister containing the used fuel completely below grade removes any target that an airplane or missile could hit.

  • Should a fuel pool be available for re-packaging of fuel?

    The basic concept of the canister-based used fuel storage system is that fuel is packaged once, in a strength-welded canister. Hence, there is no need for re-packaging fuel at the HI-STORE CISF.

  • Does Holtec have a strong safety record?

    Yes, Holtec International has, for over the past three decades, undergone rigorous inspections by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, its clients, and nuclear industry organizations, passing every inspection since its inception, no exceptions. Holtec International has an impeccable safety record. None of Holtec’s equipment has ever experienced a safety issue, leaked or caused any injury.

  • Are there cracked Holtec canisters in California?

    No, there are no cracked or damaged canisters in California or any nuclear plant using Holtec’s used fuel storage systems. The Holtec canisters are designed to meet or exceed the standards set forth by the NRC. The materials, fabrication procedures, and personnel qualifications are closely controlled to ensure high and reproducible quality. Using these tenants, the NRC approved and certified our technology. The canisters themselves are subjected to multiple tests in the factory including radiography and leak testing before the canisters are sent to a nuclear plant for use. In the field (at the plant), after the used nuclear fuel is loaded into the canister, the canister lid is welded to the canister body and is subjected to multiple tests including liquid penetrant and helium leak testing. Canisters are required to pass all tests prior to being placed into storage. Some time ago, Holtec voluntarily inspected two canisters. No abnormalities in the canisters were found. These inspections, although not required, lent credence to Holtec’s fabrication standards and practices. In the future, aging management programs, mandated and approved by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, will provide assurance the canisters do not develop cracks or leaks over the many years that the canisters will be in use.

Transportation

  • Are the casks too heavy for the rail lines?

    No, they are not too heavy. Weight capacity of rail systems is specified as weight per axle of the rail car. A rail car with 8 or 12 axles can carry a cask without exceeding any limitation. A locomotive easily weighs 400,000 pounds, similar to a cask. So, weights such as that are nothing unusual for the rail system.

  • Will transporting the waste twice double the risks?

    The final repository will most likely be in the western U.S. So, we will actually be transporting it one time to the western destination with a temporary stop over while waiting for the repository to be completed. There will be very little difference in the distance traveled, and thus, the risk calculations change very little.

  • The used nuclear fuel in the casks contains plutonium, similar to a nuclear bomb. Could an accident with a cask create a nuclear explosion?

    No, absolutely not. While it is correct that used nuclear fuel contains plutonium, it is in a state and configuration that makes a nuclear explosion physically impossible.

Radiological and Environmental

  • What prevents water and debris from entering the underground storage cavity?

    The HI-STORM UMAX lid is designed to direct storm water and, in northern climates, snow/ice melt-off away from the lid where the air passages are located. The concrete pad is sloped to direct water away from the lid. Moreover, any minor amount of moisture that may intrude into the storage cavity due to wind-driven rain will evaporate in a short period of time due to the continuous movement of heated air in the storage cavity. Also, all inlets and outlets are equipped with screens that prevent any significant debris from entering the vaults.

  • What dose could I receive from a train transporting used nuclear fuel?

    If you were to stand at a rail road crossing and a train with 10 spent fuel casks would slowly roll past you (at 3 miles per hour) you would receive less than 0.03 mrem of radiation. This amount of radiation is not measurable compared to background radiation levels. This is less than 1/10,000th of the typical annual dose from the background radiation that every person experiences in the US, which is about 360 mrem. This is also less than 1/10th of what a person receives during just 1 hour traveling by plane, which is about 0.5 mrem. Hence the dose rate from rail transport of used nuclear fuel casks, even at close distance, is negligible compared to other radiation sources that are part of everyday life.

  • What dose could I receive if I were to stand at the boundary of the HI-STORE CISF?

    If you were to stand at the site boundary of the HI-STORE CISF for 24 hours, you would receive less than 0.03 mrem of radiation. This amount of radiation is not measurable compared to background radiation levels. This is less than 1/10,000th of the typical annual dose from the background radiation that every person experiences in the US, which is about 360 mrem. This is also less than 1/10th of what a person receives during just 1 hour traveling by plane, which is about 0.5 mrem. Hence the dose rate from the facility, even at close distance, is negligible compared to other radiation sources that are part of everyday life.

Regulatory Compliance

  • What regulations and oversight apply to the HI-STORE CISF?

    At the federal government level, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission must approve the license application submitted by Holtec International. Regulatory requirements would be imposed on all aspects of the operation, including security and liability. Oversight would include periodic inspections and audits conducted by regional inspectors. All of this occurs at operating interim storage facilities across the country today. Construction and environmental permits will be approved at the state and local levels.