Indian Point and Buchanan | Theresa Knickerbocker, the mayor of the Village of Buchanan, talks about the Indian Point Energy Center closing and what lies ahead for the village.

East coast nuclear power plants are getting ready to send their waste to southeast New Mexico as they are shut down.

Holtec International recently acquired licenses to decommission multiple plants as it proceeds through a licensing process to build and operate a facility to temporary store spent nuclear fuel rods near the Eddy County-Lea County line.

The ongoing license application for the first phase of the project before the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), would allow Holtec to store 500 cannisters at the site –or about 8,000 metric tons – of spent fuel, but the company expects up to 20 more phases as capacity is needed.

The fuel would be transported via rail from generator sites from across the U.S. to be stored in New Mexico until a permanent repository is operational.

A proposed permanent facility used to dispose of the waste deep underground at Yucca Mountain, Nevada was stalled by state and federal lawmakers, which drew criticism from environmental groups that the Holtec site could become permanent for lack of another resting place for the waste.

On Nov. 25, Holtec announced it had been approved by the NRC to acquire to decommission the three-reactor Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, New York.

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Last year, Holtec also acquired licenses to decommission the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, Massachusetts and the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey.

Public meeting on Indian Point decommissioning | Holtec International presented its plans for decommissioning the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant during a public meeting in Buchanan Wednesday.

Indian Point was expected to close in April 2021, leaving Holtec responsible for the site’s assets and its decommissioning while reaching a compact with state and local authorities and negotiations were underway, per a Holtec news release.

The company believed it could lever its past work at the Oyster Creek and Pilgrim facilities and other successes using its Holtec Decommissioning Model.

“We will continue our ongoing discussions with elected officials, which have been characterized by amicable and transparent dialog to further our shared goal of achieving a repurposed site that supports new jobs and increased tax revenue,” said Pamela Cowan, senior vice president at Holtec Decommissioning International.

Holtec expects to transfer the used fuel from cooling pools at the plant to a nearby facility within about 2 years of Indian Point’s decommissioning.

Senior Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer at Holtec Pierre Oneid said the ultimate plane was for the waste from Indian Point to be sent the temporary storage facility in New Mexico when it was completed.

“Our ultimate mission is to enable the translocation of the Indian Point canisters to our HI-STORE Consolidated Interim Storage (CIS) underground storage facility in New Mexico, where they will reside temporarily in impregnable storage vaults,” Oneid said.

“Towards this end, we beseech the engagement of the Federal government and the host states, namely, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts (Pilgrim), to help forge the public policy to effectuate the aggregation of the nation’s canisters to our supremely safe interim storage site in New Mexico.”

The sited faced support from local municipalities in Carlsbad in Eddy County and Hobbs in Lea County but saw opposition from state leaders and environmental groups in New Mexico, Texas and across the country.

A cut away of a cask used by Holtec international to transport spent nuclear fuel

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott voiced his concerns in a letter to the federal government that the Holtec site could become a target for terrorist attacks while New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called it “economic malpractice” as she said the facility could threaten nearby extraction operations and agriculture operations.

John Heaton, chair of the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance and of the Carlsbad Mayor’s Nuclear Task Force said the license transfer at Indian Point and the other plants was a sign that Holtec’s project to build the storage site already had adequate need to safely store the nation’s nuclear waste.

The NRC recently released a draft environmental impact statement that found the facility would have minimal impact on the environment, and the agency recommended the license be issued.

The project is awaiting a final federal decision expected next year.

Heaton said through the decommissioning of Indian Point, Holtec had a supply of about 400 canisters ready to be shipped to New Mexico and stored at the facility once it is licensed to be built and operated.

He said there were about 18 other facilities in total poised to deliver spent nuclear fuel and another 25 were expected in the next decade.

 “It means that they have a ready source of cannisters ready to go,” he said. “From an efficiency and business project standpoint, it’s extremely beneficial. They have a place to put the fuel. Being able to get the rods offsite gives them (Holtec) the ability to be a full-service decommissioning company. That’s very attractive.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was critical of the transfer of Indian Point to Holtec, arguing that no public hearing was held despite a request from state leaders.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

“Cleaning up Indian Point will be complicated and expensive, and for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to act without considering New York’s request for a hearing is unacceptable and denies New Yorkers the public and transparent process they deserve,” Cuomo said in a statement.

“New York is unwavering in our commitment to holding any owner of Indian Point to the highest standards throughout this process and we will continue to fight to ensure it is shut down safely.”

By Adrian Hedden