Holtec International is partnered with the Eddy Lea Energy Alliance (ELEA), consisting of southeastern New Mexico’s Eddy and Lea counties and cities of Carlsbad and Hobbs, for the development of an autonomous Consolidated Interim Storage (CIS) facility in their region which is consistent with their mandate of promotion of regional economic development and environmental protection. ELEA has been the prime mover behind the proposed HI-STORE CIS facility and as such, is the principal stakeholder in the HI-STORE CIS program. 

Pictorial view of the proposed the HI-STORE CIS Facility under NRC review

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, short-term, 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 used nuclear fuel canisters presently scattered across the country at dozens of independent used fuel storage installations into one location that is environmentally suitable for interim storage. 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 up to 10,000 storage canisters. The U.S. currently has more than 80,000 metric tons of used nuclear fuel in storage and more is being generated at the rate of ~2,000 metric-tons per year.

The fuel-storage technology envisaged to be deployed at the HI-STORE CIS is called HI-STORM UMAX which is licensed and deployed in the industry for on-site storage. “UMAX” stores fuel below-ground in impregnable bunkers making it safe from threats of extreme environmental phenomena or acts of human mendacity such as a crashing aircraft. The impregnable, subterranean design of HI-STORM UMAX has distinguished it as far and away the safest storage technology available in the industry anywhere in the world. Some of the compelling advantages of “consolidated interim storage” in general and HI-STORE CIS in particular, that help explain its overwhelming acceptance by the host communities in southeastern New Mexico, are summarized below:

  1. Industry experience shows that the transport of the used fuel-bearing MPCs from the different nuclear plant sites in the US can be made with little fear of a radioactivity release event: Millions of miles of nuclear fuel transport experience all over the world has not led to a single instance of radioactive material release at any time in human history. Add to it the fact that the used fuel-bearing package is qualified to yield no radiological matter under the bounding accident scenario wherein the package strikes a hard target. A logical deduction from this historical experience and the ruggedness o the shipment package is that the communities that lie astride the transport path to the HI-STORE CIS site will be at negligible risk of a radiological event from the fuel shipments.
  2. Thousands of canister-years of experience of nuclear fuel has never led to a single instance of release of any  radioactive material from any dry storage facility in the US or abroad.
  3. The HI-STORE storage system proposed to be deployed at the ELEA site holds the all-welded canisters containing the nuclear fuel entirely below-grade in impregnable vaults. The radiation dose emitted by the CIS at the site boundary is so low that it is a small fraction of the cosmic radiation that envelopes us everywhere. 
  4. The fuel canisters in the HI-STORE CIS facility are readily removable by the specialized equipment provided by Holtec. The fuel-bearing canisters are inaccessible to anyone without the specialized equipment. With available  tooling, any loaded canister can be removed from the site in less than a shift of work. An unauthorized malevolent actor cannot gain access to the nuclear fuel.
  5. Essentially indestructible, the HI-STORE storage system cannot be set on fire, flooded with torrents of water, or  damaged by any extreme environmental phenomenon or by projectiles hurled at it.
  6. The HI-STORE CIS facility occupies less than the top 30 feet of the earth’s crust. Industrial activities such as mining of potash or extraction of hydrocarbons from the land, which occurs >1000 feet below-the-surface, will be entirely unaffected by the HI-STORE installation. Thus, it is fair to state that the CIS will have no impact on the local business activities such as potash mining and oil drilling operations in the region.
  7. There are no liquid effluents or radioactive gas produced by the HI-STORE CIS facility. Therefore, there is no risk to the local groundwater or the quality of air at the site. 
  8. The storage technology proposed for the ELEA is proven technology having been deployed in significantly more challenging locations such as the San Onofre’ site in southern California with its marine environment and high seismicity.

Considering the above, it is evident that HI-STORE CIS facility should not be considered a risk to public health and safety in the remotest sense. The HI-STORE’s canister that can be carted away in the space of a day hardly merit being called a permanent installation. 

The Nexus between HI-STORE CISF and the Future Repository 

It is widely believed that a repository for permanent disposal of the used nuclear fuel is essential for long- term viability of nuclear power as a source of clean energy. An essential prelude for the repository, however, is an intermediate term storage facility which was called “Consolidated Interim Storage” (CIS) by the 2012 Presidential Blue-Ribbon Commission subsequently endorsed by the DOE. In essence, the CIS is an aging facility where the used fuel stored in 75 disparate locations in the country will be aggregated and allowed to undergo decay without any human intervention. The required decay period is reckoned to be several decades at which point the aged multi-purpose canisters (MPCs) can be safely interred in the repository.  

Thus, our HI-STORE CIS is a short-term storage facility which is needed before an operating repository would be required. In other words, the CIS is an essential precursor to, and not a competitor of the repository. A proper project execution plan for the repository must be premised on a robust and well-conceived CIS design which would inform the repository’s design parameters.