Alvarez said he estimates VY would need 43 additional dry casks on-site to empty its spent fuel pool. At about $1 million a pop, the casks and the pads they sit on would cost about $43 million.
If VY operates until its current federal license ends in 2032, the cost will jump to $588 million.
The spent fuel situation at VY represents “the tip of the spear of a much bigger crisis,” warned Alvarez.
He said he believes that the states hosting similar single reactor plants, stuffed to the gills with spent fuel, will be left to deal with long-term storage of spend fuel.
Legally, the federal government assumes responsibility for nuclear waste only when it crosses the threshold of a federal — and so far non-existent — nuclear storage site. Until that day, the waste remains the responsibility of the power plants that produced it.
“The 1982 law does not permit the Nuclear Waste Fund, collected from nuclear power rate-payers since the law was passed, to be spent for dry storage until a geological repository is opened,” said Alvarez.
Storing nuclear waste is an “enormous responsibility,” he said. The legal framework for dealing with waste, however, is “upside down” and needs to be corrected.
VY’s owner, Entergy Corp., faces “enormous costs” operating the single reactor plant and “may close Vermont Yankee at any moment,” Alvarez said.
UBS Securities Swiss financial services company stated in a recent report that VY may close as early as this year.
Given the plant’s age, and economic competition from cheap natural gas prices, “the closure of Vermont Yankee [will happen] well before its license expires” in 2032, Alvarez predicted.
The merchant plant lacks rate-payers to help finance the increased expenses of running the plant. This shrinks Entergy’s profit margin, he said.
“VY’s pool contains more than 30 years’ accumulation, making it one of the most densely packed radioactive waste pools in the nation, and therefore at increased risk of fire,” wrote Alvarez in talking points to the legislative committees.
The VY reactor has generated about “624 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel contained in 3,427 assemblies holding 215,901 fuel rods” over its 41-year lifespan, Alvarez said. The plant has exceeded the number of assemblies authorized by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission which regulates nuclear plants in the country.
This spent fuel with nowhere to go is warehoused in the plant’s spent-fuel pool, he said.
VY has more spent fuel in its pool than Fukushima had.
The pool at VY was designed to house the cooling spent fuel rods for only five years. The intent was then to remove the rods to a permanent federal storage facility.
With that in mind, engineers constructed spent fuel pools with fewer safety features than reactors require, said Alvarez.
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