BRATTLEBORO—Vermont Yankee and other nuclear plants no longer just spin turbines and produce electricity.
Nuclear plants, and the states that host them, must also acknowledge these sites as the nuclear waste storage facilities they are, said nuclear waste expert Robert Alvarez.
The industry has consistently “put the disposal cart before the storage horse,” Alvarez said April 18, sitting in the lobby of the Latchis Hotel, fresh from testifying before the Vermont House and Senate Natural Resources and Energy committees in Montpelier.
In Alvarez’s opinion, the state of Vermont “should be prepared for the real possibility that spent nuclear fuel will remain on-site and require careful and expensive management for decades to come, whether or not VY keeps operating.”
Alvarez serves as a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and is an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced Strategic International Studies. He served as a senior policy advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Energy between 1993 and 1999.
Prior to this he served as professional staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs responsible for oversight, investigation, and legislation regarding civil and military nuclear programs.
The government and nuclear industry always assumed a national nuclear waste storage facility was “right around the corner” since the 1980s, he said at the Latchis.
With Yucca Mountain off the table, it’s unlikely the country will have a repository before 2048, said Alvarez. The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository was to be a deep geological repository storage facility for spent nuclear reactor fuel and other high-level radioactive waste, until federal funding ended in 2010.
Meanwhile, the nation’s nuclear reactors will exceed their spent pool storage by 2015.
“Let’s stop pretending that this problem will be fixed,” he said.
Alvarez said the nuclear waste sitting in spent fuel pools should be moved into dry cask storage.
Dry casks proved themselves during the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011, which stemmed from a tsunami and earthquake. For the first time, this storage method received a real-world double-whammy test. The casks passed the test, while the Fukushima reactor No. 4 and its spent fuel pool did not.
Existing funds can cover the cost of moving spent fuel to dry cask storage.
The money, however, is locked in the Nuclear Waste Fund. Originally collected from all nuclear plants for the national storage site, Yucca Mountain, overhauling the waste fund’s legal structure could free $18 billion to move spent fuel to dry casks, he said.
According to a 2011 study by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), it would take $3.9 billion to transfer the nation’s spent fuel to dry cask storage if the industry acts sooner than later.
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