Long-Term Repository Needed As Nuclear Waste Continues to Pile Up

October 31, 2013

Bloomberg Businessweek recently highlighted our nation’s nuclear waste woes, noting that radioactive waste continues to pile up at plants across the country with the Yucca Mountain repository shuttered. There is approximately 70,000 tons of waste stored at plants across the country. Illinois is home to the country’s greatest nuclear waste stockpile, but it is just one of 34 states that currently store waste at plants. In the absence of a long-term repository, plants have turned to on-site dry-cask storage as an alternative. While on-site storage of these casks is a safe, short-term solution, scientists and safety advocates have underscored the need for a long-term repository. David Lochbaum, Director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Nuclear Safety Project, stated that “it would be preferable” if the casks were in “Yucca Mountain or some repository.”

“Our nuclear waste problem across the country is real and immediate and it will only get worse the longer we delay Yucca Mountain,” said Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL). “We must work to get this spent fuel away from all of our nuclear plants and into a safe, long-term repository. Congress chose Yucca Mountain as the site and we have already invested decades of research and over $15 billion on the project. Yucca is the current law of the land, and it is the best solution we have. It is time to move forward with the project and get America’s nuclear future back on track.”

October 25, 2013

Illinois Biggest Atomic Dump as No Site Picked by U.S.

U.S. lawmakers have debated for decades where to put all the spent fuel generated by the nation’s nuclear power plants. The dithering means that an unintended site has emerged: Illinois.

About 13 percent of America’s 70,000 metric tons of the radioactive waste is stashed in pools of water or in special casks at the atomic plants in Illinois that produced it, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington-based industry group. That’s the most held in any state.

Across the country, atomic power plants “have become de facto major radioactive waste-management operations,” Robert Alvarez, a former adviser to Energy Department secretaries during President Bill Clinton’s administration, said in a phone interview.

With no place to send their waste, power plants in 30 states -- which generate about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity -- are doubling as dumps for spent fuel that remains dangerous for thousands of years. Another four states without operating reactors store spent fuel at closed plants. It is an expensive and, according to some critics, unsafe practice for which the plants weren’t designed and that may end up costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

“That’s not a long-term solution,” Everett Redmond, senior director of non-proliferation and fuel cycle policy at NEI, whose members include reactor owners Exelon Corp (EXC:US). of Chicago and Southern Co. (SO:US) of Atlanta. There’s a “general obligation to society to dispose of the material,” Redmond said in a phone interview.

Yucca Mountain

After Illinois, which also has more reactors than any other state, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and New York have the most waste temporarily stored at power plants.

Since 1998, the U.S. government has been required by law to remove nuclear waste from plants and haul it to a secure disposal site -- though it hasn’t because none has been built. Congress in 1987 designated one for Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, a project that President Barack Obama’s administration cut funding for in 2010 at the urging of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.

In the meantime, utilities and other power providers have sued the U.S. almost 80 times to recover their storage costs, winning $2 billion in judgments and settlements. Taxpayers may be forced to pay as much as $20.8 billion by 2020 as the liability grows, according to a report last year from a commission Obama created to study waste-storage options. …

Once used, radioactive fuel rods are removed from reactors and stored in cooling pools at the plants. The reactor owner can transfer the waste to steel and concrete casks once the fuel has cooled for about five years.

A dry-cask storage facility at a plant can cost as much as $20 million to build and $7 million a year to maintain, according to the industry group, and about 71 percent of the nation’s spent fuel now remains in the pools. …

When a tsunami triggered a triple-meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant in March 2011, the nuclear waste that was stored in dry casks was protected, according to David Lochbaum, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Nuclear Safety Project.

Still, “dry casks aren’t absolutely safe,” he said by phone. While the risk of sabotage is minimal during their storage at nuclear plants, it is possible, Lochbaum said. “It would be preferable if they were in Yucca Mountain or some repository.” …

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