Last week, Waste Control Specialists filed a letter of intent with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to submit a license application for the country's first interim storage site for high-level nuclear waste by April 2016. During today's OnPoint, Rod Baltzer, president of Waste Control Specialists, discusses his company's plans and the potential hurdles facing the approval and construction of the facility. Baltzer also talks about his expectations for this proposal to become a part of congressional action on nuclear waste.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Rod Baltzer, president of Waste Control Specialists. Rod, thanks for coming on the show.
Rod Baltzer: Oh, you're welcome.
Monica Trauzzi: Rod, WCS has filed a letter of intent with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to submit a license application for the country's first interim storage site for high-level nuclear waste by April 2016. You've chosen Andrews County in Texas as the site for the facility. Why Andrews County?
Rod Baltzer: We currently have a low-level radioactive waste disposal operation in Andrews County. Andrews County has been educated over the last 20 years with our efforts on low-level waste, and it was easy to educate them on high-level waste. They're very supportive of us and this industry, so it was a logical place to start.
Monica Trauzzi: So Andrews County commissioners passed a resolution supporting your company's plans; however, local media has reported that there are concerns from people in nearby counties about the potential risks associated with this facility. Do you believe that you have adequate support from the community and the surrounding areas?
Rod Baltzer: Yeah, we always try to do what we call concentric circles. So we start with Andrews as the center of that circle and then spread throughout the Permian Basin and then larger, into Texas and Austin and other places that are further away. That support is something that you build over time. It's an educational outreach effort. We want to make sure that the community is aware of what we're doing, why we're doing it and how it's done safely.
Monica Trauzzi: Yucca Mountain has faced quite an uphill climb. How convinced are you that this facility won't see a similar outcome?
Rod Baltzer: Well, never say never. With our low-level facility we thought that would take a shorter period of time than it did. It wound up taking us over 15 years and $500 million. We don't expect that on high-level, but never say never. We do think we learned a lot through that process with low-level, so we do think the time is right or we wouldn't have started the process now.
Monica Trauzzi: And what are your projections for how long this process might take?
Rod Baltzer: We think it'll be about a year for us to submit the license application, so that April 2016 -- about a three-year licensing review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, another year or so to build the facility, and so we would be ready for operations by the end of 2020.
Monica Trauzzi: So as part of this you'd like to see the Nuclear Waste Policy Act amended. For what reason, and is the construction of this facility contingent on that?
Rod Baltzer: So there's been some discussion in the industry of if you have to amend the Nuclear Waste Policy Act or not. If there are policy changes or legislative clarifications that need to be made, you know, whatever that involves, we just want to make sure there was an outlet where DOE can enter into a contract with us as a private company to pay for storage of this used nuclear fuel.
Monica Trauzzi: And is this contingent? Is the construction of this facility contingent on that?
Rod Baltzer: Yeah, in order for us to start construction we would need to have both the payment mechanism and the license issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Monica Trauzzi: What else are you looking for from the federal government?
Rod Baltzer: That's really it. We're not looking for any kind of handouts. We're not looking for them to help us with our consent-based program or any of that. This is really something that we think we are best situated for, that we've got education and experience with, and so we want to go provide this solution.
Monica Trauzzi: And how does it get paid for?
Rod Baltzer: The Department of Energy would pay for storage. So currently they're paying settlement fees and other things for storage of this at individual nuclear power plant sites. We would take the waste from the individual nuclear power plants, consolidate them at our site, and receive those payments instead.
Monica Trauzzi: So that is a potential hurdle for the project to overcome.
Rod Baltzer: That is, yes.
Monica Trauzzi: What's the interplay between the proposal of this facility and the potential congressional action we're expecting on nuclear waste legislation?
Rod Baltzer: This will probably come up as part of the debate. There's been some debate of should you have an interim storage facility before there is a permanent repository. We're not saying that you need a permanent repository or shouldn't have a permanent repository or where that repository should be. All we know is that there needs to be a solution. There's permanently shut-down reactors that all they have right now is dry pad storage. That should be consolidated so those communities can go and use that for whatever beneficial reuse purposes they may have. It would also save the Department of Energy and taxpayers a lot of money to consolidate that in one site instead of having various licenses, security forces and maintenance of a wide range of pads.
Monica Trauzzi: And how much time could an interim storage facility buy before a decision needed to be made on a permanent facility?
Rod Baltzer: Well, we think an interim storage facility will probably be around for 60 to 100 years. It's a long time. By the time a repository opens and starts taking waste and empties out an interim storage facility, there will be a lot more waste in storage that needs a home as well.
Monica Trauzzi: What are your expectations now with Republicans in the majority of Congress -- expectations for how nuclear issues will be handled?
Rod Baltzer: Our expectation is that we're a bipartisan solution. We've had legislation in Texas related to low-level and we wound up having more than 90 percent of the Republicans and more than 80 percent of the Democrats vote for us. It's interesting that there are environmental challenges and problems out there that need solutions, but I think both can come together when there is a solution that's outside the Beltway, doesn't require a lot of funding and can be done by the private sector safely, compliantly, and protect the environment.
Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it there. I appreciate your time. Thanks for coming on the show.
Rod Baltzer: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
[End of Audio]