ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — U.S. regulators have denied requests for a hearing by watchdog groups challenging plans by New Jersey-based Holtec International to build a storage facility in New Mexico for spent nuclear fuel.
“With the hearings hurdle removed,” said a Holtec press statement after the Tuesday decision, the company’s storage project “remains on track for licensing in 2020.”
Holtec is the company, based in Camden, that is also seeking permission from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to purchase the closed Oyster Creek nuclear power plant from its owner Exelon, so it can decommission it and gain control over an almost $1 billion decommissioning fund.
Watchdog and environmental groups have also requested a NRC public hearing on Holtec’s plans regarding Oyster Creek, but the NRC has not yet made a decision in that case.
Democrat South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross is on the board there, and the company has received tax benefits from the state Economic Development Authority for its Camden waterfront campus.
Holtec is seeking to build the spent fuel storage facility in southeastern New Mexico, in part to take spent fuel rods from Oyster Creek during the decommissioning process. In a press statement Holtec said the dry climate of New Mexico would keep the storage canisters from aging.
The NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board announced its decision Tuesday after hearing arguments in Albuquerque earlier this year. It decided none of the petitioners had the right to the hearing.
Opponents have raised concerns about the project’s legality, the safety of transporting high-level waste and the potential for contamination if something were to go wrong.
Lawyers for the group Beyond Nuclear say they will continue to pursue a federal court appeal aimed at stopping the project.
Holtec calls the project a HI-STORE Consolidated Interim Storage facility, meaning it would provide temporary storage space for commercial reactors’ spent fuel. The federal government is still tasked with providing permanent storage, but its efforts to establish in Nevada have failed so far.
The company said the used fuel would be packaged in all-welded canisters, and provide a place to put the spent fuel that is currently stored in a variety of above-ground systems at different nuclear plant sites around the country.
The fuel would be “aggregated and stored in terror-resistant, below-ground systems known as HI-STORM UMAX which will provide ready retrievability to ship the canisters to any licensed repository at any time,” the statement said.
Staff Writer Michelle Brunetti Post contributed to this report.