States say NRC needs to improve environmental review of radioactive waste storage
AP File Photo Dry cask storage units of nuclear fuel are seen in 2009 at Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon.
MONTPELIER — The state of Vermont, along with Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut, wants the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to do more about evaluating the environmental hazards of storing high-level radioactive waste.
In a petition filed with the NRC, Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell said the federal agency is doing an inadequate job of evaluating the risks of long-term storage of high-level radioactive waste.
Sorrell and other attorneys general want a more comprehensive evaluation of the environmental consequences of storage of the waste, on a site-by-site evaluation.
“We have a community of interest,” he said of the four states.
Vermont Yankee currently stores most of the 40 years of its spent nuclear fuel in a deep water pool in the reactor building. About five years ago, it started storing the oldest — and coolest — waste in giant concrete and steel canisters in a facility just north of the Vernon plant. All of its waste is on site, since the federal government has not opened a federal spent fuel facility.
A District of Columbia appeals court ruled in favor of the states last June, saying the NRC was doing an inadequate job of evaluating the risks of high-level storage, either in so-called spent fuel pools or in concrete and steel casks outside the reactor buildings.
The NRC chose not to appeal that decision, Sorrell said, and instead launched “rule-making,” designed to address the appeals court’s concerns.
But Sorrell said the state was appealing the NRC staff’s recommendations, which came after it solicited comments. Vermont filed comments earlier this year, Sorrell said. Sorrell said the issue would likely be a long fight.
But NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said Thursday the staff’s recommendations were based on directions from the commission itself.
Sheehan said NRC staff were currently studying just how long dry cask storage can be used at nuclear power plants.
“The waste confidence decision update states that we consider on-site spent fuel storage to be safe for up to 60 years after a plant permanently shuts down,” he wrote in an email.
Vermont Yankee currently has a federal license to run until 2032, although it lacks a state permit from the Public Service Board. That permit is currently under review.
The Vermont Department of Public Service also joined in the petition, with Christopher Recchia, commissioner, saying the NRC should do the federally required comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement before allowing storage.
Sorrell said New Jersey, which was part of the earlier suit involving high-level radioactive waste storage, had dropped out of the petition, but Massachusetts had joined the suit.
He said the four states all were home to aging nuclear reactors that had reached or were reaching their original storage capacity.
The states, and anti-nuclear activists, have been pushing the NRC to require all spent fuel to be transferred to dry cask storage, saying it was inherently safer than the deep-water pools.
Spent fuel can’t be moved out of the spent fuel pool for at least five years, until it has cooled down.
Sheehan said there are risks associated with moving spent nuclear fuel, which must be moved to dry cask storage “in an extremely careful and orchestrated manner.”
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