Waste Control Specialists and Utilities Service Alliance

A partnership for the future of nuclear power

By David Cronshaw, Vice President, Business Development, Waste Control Specialists LLC

The disposal of low-level radioactive waste in the United States has entered a new era with the opening of the Texas Compact Disposal Facility in a remote area of western Andrews County, Texas.

An aerial view shows disposal features at the Waste Control Specialist site in western Andrews County, Texas, looking west toward New Mexico. All photos courtesy of Waste Control Specialists.
An aerial view shows disposal features at the Waste Control Specialist site in western Andrews County, Texas, looking west toward New Mexico. All photos courtesy of Waste Control Specialists.

Owned by the state of Texas and operated by Waste Control Specialists, a subsidiary of Valhi, Inc., the Texas Compact Disposal Facility is the first and only commercial facility in the U.S. specifically engineered and constructed for the safe, permanent disposal of all classes of low-level radioactive waste (LLRW).

Featuring a concrete-reinforced liner system, this robust, state-of-the-art facility offers the most comprehensive array of services available today at a single location for the storage, treatment and disposal of LLRW.

The facility’s importance to the future of nuclear power was highlighted in October 2011 when WCS entered into an agreement with Utilities Service Alliance, Inc., (USA) to dispose of Class A, B and C LLRW. The agreement provides USA members with discounted disposal rates for committed disposal volumes from participating members without holding each member directly accountable for annual shipments.

Under the agreement, all participating members benefit from a discounted disposal price based on the total volume committed by the group over the six-year term of the contract. The term begins once WCS begins LLRW disposal operations, the agreement has been approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), and the first importation agreement for a participation company is approved by the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission.

WCS and USA worked closely with Alliance members to put an agreement in place that would benefit all parties. Some USA members have limited space for LLRW storage and access to the Texas Compact facility will help relieve some of that pressure.

Participating companies are Ameren, Arizona Public Service Co., Detroit Edison Co., American Electric Power Co., Nebraska Public Power District, Xcel Energy, Omaha Public Power District, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., PPL Susquehanna LLC, Southern California Edison, and Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corp.

Workers position a disposal canister in Texas Compact Facility during a training exercise.
Workers position a disposal canister in Texas Compact Facility during a training exercise.

Five USA member plants are already committed to shipping LLRW to WCS and other members still have an opportunity to commit additional volumes prior to the start of the term, which would reduce their costs even more.

Prior to accepting the waste at the Texas Compact facility, each utility must apply for an import petition from the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission. WCS must also modify its license to receive the waste and TCEQ must approve the contract.

About the Alliance

USA was formed in 1996 as a not-for-profit cooperative designed to facilitate collaboration among its member utilities. Its membership stretches from coast-to-coast, and currently includes eight “full” member utilities with 10 power stations and 14 total reactors.

Utilities with full USA membership include:

  • American Electric Power (Cook, Units 1 & 2)
  • Detroit Edison (Fermi 2 Nuclear Plant)
  • Energy Northwest (Columbia Generating Station)
  • Nebraska Public Power District (Cooper Nuclear Station)
  • Omaha Public Power District (Fort Calhoun Station)
  • Pennsylvania Power & Light (Susquehanna, Units 1 & 2)
  • Public Service Enterprise Group (Salem, Units 1 & 2 and Hope Creek)
  • Xcel Energy (Prairie Island, Units 1 & 2; and Monticello)

In addition to full membership, USA also offers Class “C” membership with reduced benefits. Current utilities with Class C membership include:

  • Ameren Missouri (Callaway, Units 1 & 2)
  • Arizona Public Service (Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, Units 1, 2, & 3)
  • Constellation Energy (Nine Mile Point, Units 1 & 2)
  • Luminant (Comanche Peak, Units 1 & 2)
  • Southern NOC (Edwin I. Hatch Nuclear Plant)
  • Pacific Gas & Electric (Diablo Canyon Power Plant, Units 1 & 2)
  • Progress Energy (Harris Nuclear Generating Station, H.B. Robinson Nuclear Generating Station, and Crystal River Power Plant)
  • South Texas Project NOC (STP Units 1 & 2)
  • Southern California Edison (San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, Units 1 & 2)
  • Wolf Creek NOC (Wolf Creek Generating Station)

USA has two major objectives:

  • To improve individual plant and fleet performance. The Alliance enables member utilities to share a wealth of talented and experienced personnel with different backgrounds and perspectives. The fleet members work together to improve each other’s overall performance and the performance of the Alliance as a whole.
  • To reduce operating and maintenance costs. Considerable cost savings can be derived by fleet members by sharing resources, tools and equipment, and by taking advantage of collective buying power to purchase products and/or services (like LLRW disposal) at a lower price than each site might be able to obtain individually.

By being a part of the Alliance, USA’s member utilities enjoy fleet benefits while keeping the flexibility of their independent operator status. This gives members the ability to retain local control at each site while benefiting from standardization, have collective “influence” in the industry while still maintaining single nuclear site status, selectively choose projects and initiatives, share existing resources without transferring ownership and consolidate mutual service functions.

About the WCS Facility

The Texas Compact Disposal Facility, located on the WCS property in Andrews County, is unique because it is the first site in the country specifically engineered and constructed for the permanent disposal of Class B and C waste and it is the only new disposal option created since Congress passed the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act in 1980. The Texas Compact Facility features below-grade disposal in concrete-lined cells that are constructed in 600 feet of almost impermeable, natural red-bed clay formations atop a more than 7-foot, state-of-the-art, comprehensive liner system. Prior to disposal, waste will be placed in 10-foot tall, half-foot thick, reinforced-concrete cylinders and void spaces in the containers will be filled with grout.

Low-level radioactive waste will be placed in steel-reinforced Modular Concrete Canister, MCC, for disposal in concrete-lined disposal cell.
Low-level radioactive waste will be placed in steel-reinforced Modular Concrete Canister, MCC, for disposal in concrete-lined disposal cell.

In the summer of 2011 with the facility nearing completion and the beginning of operations on the horizon, the Texas Legislature addressed the national problem of LLRW disposal while simultaneously providing a benefit to Texas consumers and ratepayers by passing Senate Bill 1504. This legislation grants non-party state generators, such as Alliance members, access to the facility and it protects Texas interests by banning disposal of international, or foreign, waste.

State lawmakers devised a way to keep disposal costs low for Texas and Vermont generators, who comprise the Texas Compact, while providing tens of millions of dollars annually for the Texas state budget through a voluntary access surcharge paid by non-party state generators, those outside the Compact.

During the legislative process, lawmakers created two separate rate structures, one for generators in the Compact states of Texas and Vermont and another for non-party state generators.

In the simplest terms, Compact rates will be based on the investment in the facility and the facility’s operational costs divided by the amount of waste disposed of. So every cubic foot of waste disposed of from non-party state generators effectively lowers the maximum rate for Texas and Vermont generators.

For non-party state generators, the legislation allows WCS, as the disposal facility operator, to enter into a disposal contract with a willing generator at an agreed-upon market price as long as that price is above the maximum disposal rates set by TCEQ for Compact generators.

In crafting the final legislation, lawmakers struck a balance; acknowledging the benefit of importation for Texas and Vermont generators in the form of reduced rates while setting yearly limits on the amount of imported waste. The legislation limits non-party state waste to no more than 30 percent of the facility’s 2.3 million total capacity, reserving 70 percent of disposal capacity for Texas and Vermont, with 80 percent of that amount set aside for Texas and 20 percent for Vermont.

Under Senate Bill 1504, WCS may dispose of only 50,000 cubic feet of non-party state LLRW annually with a limit of 110,000 curies. Texas lawmakers, however, knew of the existing backlog of Class B and C LLRW in 34 states currently lacking a viable disposal option because in July 2008 the Barnwell, S.C. facility stopped accepting LLRW for disposal from generators outside the Atlantic Compact (South Carolina, Connecticut and New Jersey). In response, Texas lawmakers purposely raised the first-year maximum to 220,000 curies, but for one year only. The higher curie limit does not carry over. If it is not used in the first year it is lost, meaning less revenue for the state and potentially higher rates for Compact generators.

Cross-section shows Texas Compact Disposal Facility design and site geology.
Cross-section shows Texas Compact Disposal Facility design and site geology.

Andrews County and the state of Texas will split a fee of 10 percent of the revenue generated by disposal operations from both Compact and non-party state waste. The State of Texas also will collect a 20 percent surcharge for imported (non-party state) waste.

WCS recently began accepting waste on behalf of the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission and the state of Texas. Under the terms of the disposal license, once a client’s LLRW enters the Texas Compact Disposal Facility the waste becomes the property of the state of Texas, which assumes all legal and environmental responsibility for the waste in perpetuity. Protecting the state of Texas is $150 million in financial assurance which has already been put up by WCS.

The partnership forged by WCS and the USA is just beginning but it is expected to provide benefits to participating USA members as well as Texas and Vermont generators for years to come.

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