Energy

Here’s How Trump Could Try To Solve The US Nuclear Waste Problem

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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President Donald Trump is facing a big decision about how to store nuclear waste from U.S. reactors.

The company Holtec International sent an application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Wednesday asking permission to build a “consolidated interim storage” nuclear waste facility on a 1,000-acre patch of land in New Mexico. But the company’s application comes as the Trump administration considers moving forward with a permanent nuclear waste repository in Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

The lack of a permanent site to store waste has been a major drag on the nuclear power industry, forcing power plants to store waste on site.

State and local governments are already on board and supportive of the Holtec project, which could hold roughly 120,000 metric tons of used fuel. All the used fuel in the U.S. equates to about 80,000 tons, and only grows at a rate of 2,000 tons annually.

“Technically feasible options for managing used fuel have existed for decades, and as the world leader in nuclear technology, America should not wait any longer before pursuing them,” Maria Korsnick, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said in a press statement. “Holtec submitted a high-quality design and license application.”

Holtec’s facility would store used nuclear fuel in welded canisters in a retrievable underground facility. Last April, a similar facility by Waste Control Specialists applied for an interim storage facility license in west Texas.

“Conceptually, this site is similar to storage facilities currently operating at nuclear plants around the country,” Korsnick said. “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission should review the application without delay.”

President Donald Trump’s budget already revives plans to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

The budget “provides $120 million to restart licensing activities for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste,
repository and initiate a robust interim storage program,” according to a budget summary. “These investments would accelerate progress on fulfilling the Federal Government’s obligations to address nuclear waste, enhance national security, and reduce future taxpayer burden.”

Political obstacles blocking Yucca are nowhere near as formidable as they were under the Obama presidency.

Plans to store waste at Yucca Mountain had been killed by political opposition from former Nevada Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, creating legal liabilities for the federal government that could exceed $50 billion. Barack Obama prevented the site from opening, leaving nuclear plants without a good place to store spent nuclear fuel.

The Department of Energy submitted its proposal to build Yucca Mountain in June of 2008, and the project met the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) safety standards in October of 2014. The NRC released a report in May determining the site would have no adverse environmental impact on the local groundwater, soil, ecology or public health for a period of one million years.

Trump’s Energy Secretary Rick Perry did not commit to blocking the project when questioned by Nevada’s Democratic Sen. Cortez Masto during his confirmation hearing. A majority of Nevada’s residents and virtually all of Nevada’s elected officials oppose opening the Yucca.

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