Questions About Competence, Quality Control & Legality
Who is Holtec?
Comentary by James Heddle
Holtec International, is a family-owned company, based in Camden, New Jersey, with mixed reviews from employees. True to its name, the company has international ambitions for building small nuclear reactors (SMRs) and become dominant in the burgeoning global market of radioactive waste management. It is working hard to convince the NRC and members of the public that concerns about its San Onofre ISFSI are over-blown and unfounded.
Holtec canisters are reportedly installed at three-dozen other reactor sites around the country, including Humboldt Bay in California. Holtec is in the running, too, for a waste storage facility at the state’s Diablo Canyon nuclear site, scheduled for shutdown in 2025.
Holtec is also offering to buy four other US phased out nuclear power stations, – Oyster Creek in New Jersey, Pilgrim in Maine, Palisades in Michigan and Indian Point in New York. As of this writing three of those proposed deals have yet to be approved, but on April 18, 2019, Holtec announced that it has closed the deal with Entergy to acquire the leaking and controversial Indian Point energy center just outside New York City after the last of its three reactors shuts down.
The pot of gold in the radioactive waste business is that, thanks to fees charged to ratepayers over the years, each plant has accumulated hundreds of billions of dollars in a decommissioning trust fund, which would all go to Holtec once the sales have been completed.
Profits to be Made from Nuclear Waste
Founded in 90’s by its India-born CEO Krishna ‘Kris’ Singh, Holtec is a family-owned company that has so far specialized in manufacturing reactor parts and radioactive waste storage systems. But Mr. Singh’s vision and ambition for his company now extends to producing Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) and being a major player in the burgeoning nuclear plant decommissioning and radioactive waste management business.
Holtec’s HI-STORM UMAX dry cask storage systems – the serious flaws of which are now the focus of dispute at California’s recently shuttered San Onofre radioactive waste storage site – where loading is currently halted – are reportedly already in use at over half of US reactor sites and many other places around the world.
Holtec is also the would-be contractor for the proposed, highly contested Eddy-Lea waste dump in New Mexico, to which ‘just-get-it-out-of-here’ advocates are pushing to send San Onofre’s waste despite the strong opposition of citizen, government, business and Tribal groups there.
Holtec has recently partnered with the Canadian firm SNC-Lavalin, to form Decommissioning International (DCI) which is so far on-pace to buy six US nuclear plants scheduled for decommissioning – including Oyster Creek in New Jersey, Pilgrim in Maine, Palisades in Michigan and Indian Point in New York. They will acquire the plants on a ‘possession only’ basis and sub-contract with CDI to complete their decommissioning process in as little as 8 years, well ahead of the 60 year timeline allowed by the NRC.
Their business model aims to quickly and cheaply demolish the plant structures and store the on-site waste in the flawed Holtec system, hoping to then get access to the billions of dollars now accumulated in trust funds at each site, built up over the decades from rate-payer charges.
CDI says it will be using Holtec’s NRC-approved “proto-prompt decommissioning” strategy to speed up the demolition of shuttered commercial power reactors and the ‘clean up’ and ‘restoration’ of their sites.
It is worth emphasizing that this is no ordinary industrial waste we’re talking about here. It involves man-made substances that are biologically lethal for millennia. Mistakes in manufacturing or procedures, lapses in the rigorous established and evolving disciplines of prevailing ‘nuclear culture,’ can result in devastating contamination. It requires operators of impeccable professionalism and integrity.
Trouble is, in a hazardous business that demands such high qualifications, both SNC-Lavalin and Holtec have histories of bribery scandals and shady political dealings.
[ As this article goes to post, Yahoo Finance has announced that CDI “has been awarded its first commercial contract, worth hundreds of millions of dollars.” ]
Bribery at the TVA
Back in 2010 Kris Singh and Holtec were involved in an alleged bribery scandal at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). As a result of a criminal investigation, the TVA created a formal suspension and debarment process and, in an unprecedented move, debarred Holtec from doing business with it for 60 days. Holtec was also reportedly forced to agree to pay a $2 million ‘administrative fee’ and to submit to independent monitoring of its operations for twelve months.
For its part, SNCL has, since 2012, been embroiled in a series of other similar scandals, which are currently rocking the Canadian government to the point where they recently even sparked calls for the resignation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
That’s the company whose shadow looms over San Onofre, New Mexico and all the reactor sites around the country where its questionable canisters are storing tons of radioactive waste.
Here are some recent developments:
Activists, industry, lawmakers push for delays to interim spent fuel storage facilities planned in Texas, New Mexico
Two proposals to send high-level spent nuclear fuel to sites in Texas and New Mexico are seeing renewed opposition as environmental activists, the oil and gas industry and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have formed an unlikely and informal alliance leveraging the pandemic as a reason to delay.
The proposed Texas and New Mexico facilities — which are licensed by Interim Storage Partners LLC (a joint venture of Orano USA and Waste Control Specialists) and Holtec International, respectively — have applications under review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for consolidated interim storage facilities intended to serve as temporary repositories for high-level nuclear waste from all over the country.
The ISP facility already stores low-level waste, but the proposals would expand its license to store high-level waste, which is exponentially more radioactive, for at least 40 years. The Holtec facility would be built on undeveloped land; both facilities are located in the Permian Basin, home to more than 7,000 oil and gas fields.
While most of the country’s more than 90,000 metric tons of nuclear waste is stored where it is generated, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act amendments of 1987 mandated that the country use Nevada’s Yucca Mountain as its only permanent nuclear waste repository. But since the Obama administration scrapped those plans for Yucca in 2009, the United States has not had a long-term destination for the radioactive waste produced by its nuclear energy facilities.
Now, the proposals for these two interim alternatives are eliciting pushback of their own, especially in light of the coronavirus. The pandemic has brought renewed vigor to the fight by both environmental activists and the oil and gas industry, all of whom are concerned about the inability of local stakeholders to sufficiently review and weigh in on the current proposals and statements.
“Just look at what’s happened in Texas today: COVID numbers are just going through the roof,” said Tommy Taylor, director of oil and gas development for the family-owned Fasken Oil and Ranch Ltd. in Midland, Texas. “It’s just hard enough to keep your businesses afloat; we need a lot more time to be able to respond effectively and say what we need to say….
New Mexico’s Executive Branch and activist groups continued their fight against a nuclear waste repository proposed to be built near the Eddy-Lea county line while supporters touted promises of economic benefits to the region and southeast New Mexico’s role in addressing the nation’s nuclear waste.
The debate came during a Tuesday virtual public hearing hosted by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to seek public comments on an environmental impact statement (EIS) issued by the NRC for Holtec International’s application for a license to build a consolidated interim storage facility (CISF) that would temporarily hold spent nuclear fuel at the surface while a permanent underground repository is developed.
The draft EIS issued in March found the project would have “minimal” impact on the environment if it was allowed to be built and operated. Read more…