After years of stalemate on the Federal Government’s obligation to dispose of spent nuclear fuel, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB or board) of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a ruling rejecting numerous challenges to Pillsbury client Holtec International’s effort to establish a privately-owned interim spent nuclear fuel storage facility in New Mexico. As a result of the decision, Holtec’s proposed HI-STORE consolidated interim storage facility (“HI-STORE CISF”) in New Mexico is on track for licensing in 2020. Holtec is a diverse energy technology company based in Camden, New Jersey.

In the 137-page ASLB decision issued on May 7, the board’s three judges denied the admissibility of all 51 contentions filed by the opponents of the proposed facility. Because U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations require that there be at least one admissible contention for there to be hearing on the proposed facility, the board’s rejection of all petitioners’ contentions led to the board’s terminating the hearing on the HI-STORE facility. The decision may be appealed to the Commission, but such appeal must overcome the high hurdle of demonstrating an error of law or abuse of discretion.  The NRC staff’s technical and environmental reviews will continue, and are proceeding smoothly, according to a Holtec press release.

The unprecedented win was hailed by Holtec’s Joy Russell, the company’s Senior Vice President, Business Development and Communications. She stated, “We thank the diligent efforts by the Holtec and Pillsbury teams led by the veteran attorney Jay Silberg for this splendid outcome. We also thank our ELEA partners (Eddy Lea Energy Alliance) and the local community in New Mexico for their steadfast support and confidence in our technology’s innate safety implicit in this NRC ruling.”

“The licensing of HI-STORE CISF will provide the U.S. with an interim storage solution for the long-standing used nuclear fuel storage problem, according to a press release issued by Holtec. The used fuel packaged in all-welded canisters, presently stored in a variety of above-ground storage systems at different nuclear plant sites will 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 HI-STORE CIS can serve as the aging facility for the fuel (which is necessary to cool it down for interment in any repository). The HI-STORE CIS could thus serve a critical missing link in the nation’s back-end high-level-waste management program. The canisters stored in HI-STORM UMAX will be exposed to low humidity and the benign atmosphere of the dry plateau of southeastern New Mexico meaning they will sustain virtually no reduction in their service life.”

“From a technical standpoint one cannot conceive of a more ideal, safe and secure interim storage of used fuel than the proposed HI-STORE CIS site,” said Holtec’s Vice President of Engineering and Licensing, Dr. Stefan Anton.

In addition to Silberg, who recently celebrated 50 years in the industry, the Pillsbury team included partner Michael Lepre, special counsel Timothy Walsh and senior associate Anne Leidich, all based in Washington, DC.

Pillsbury possesses one of the world’s top nuclear energy teams—a trailblazing practice with a 50-year track record full of firsts. Renowned as among “the best-respected and best-established names in the nuclear law industry,” our lawyers have worked on large-scale energy projects and their financing in more than 75 countries on six continents.