BRATTLEBORO—Vermont’s senior U.S. senator says the long-term storage of radioactive waste in Vernon — and at all former nuclear plant sites nationwide — is “unacceptable.”
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, in a new letter to the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (VNDCAP), points out that the federal government is starting a new program aimed at finding somewhere to store spent nuclear fuel.
But that program is in its infancy. And Leahy doesn’t offer any other solutions to the problem, noting that the latest federal spending bill included no money for a proposed pilot storage facility.
“The continued failure of the federal government to remove spent nuclear fuel under its statutory obligation ... means that the country, and small host communities, are facing risks that need to be addressed,” Leahy wrote. “Beneficial reuse of the sites of closed nuclear plants is also being delayed for decades.”
The senator was responding to a November letter penned by the VNDCAP and similar committees in Connecticut, Maine, and Massachusetts. The four groups united over a common interest — the removal of spent nuclear fuel from the shuttered plants in their jurisdictions.
Vermont Yankee ceased producing power in 2014, and 3,880 spent fuel assemblies remain on site, where they eventually will be stored in sealed dry casks. But the lack of a federal repository means it is difficult to say when those casks will be shipped out of Vernon.
Long-term management of the plant’s spent fuel is expected to cost $225 million, and that’s assuming all fuel is removed by 2052.
In their letter, the citizen panels’ members urged Congress to “overcome the national nuclear waste management policy impasse” by funding a pilot interim storage facility that could accept spent fuel from closed plants. The letter noted that such a facility had been recommended by Senate and House legislation as well as by various federal reports.
Leahy’s response says the senator was “disappointed” that the pilot waste-storage program was not included in the final fiscal year 2016 omnibus appropriations bill signed by the president last month.
But the senator also noted that the Department of Energy (DOE) has begun creating a process to find proper nuclear-waste storage facilities. A notice in the Federal Register says the department is seeking public comment and planning public meetings on a proposed “consent-based siting approach.”
In other words, the federal government is seeking willing hosts for nuclear storage in order to avoid the controversy and litigation that has marked past efforts. This is “the best approach to gain the public trust and confidence needed to site nuclear waste facilities,” DOE officials wrote.
The agency “will work with communities, tribal governments, and states across the country that express interest in hosting any of the facilities identified as part of an integrated waste management system,” says the notice. “States, tribes, and others in the public carry the undue burden of hosting radioactive waste they were promised was only temporary.”
Entergy also supports fuel removal as soon as possible. Vermont Yankee spokesman Marty Cohn said the company is asking Leahy to work with other federal lawmakers “to address the issue of approving a licensed, permanent federal repository — an obligation created by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 that has gone unfulfilled.”