Vermont Yankee lays ground for dry cask storage

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(Host) Vermont Yankee wants to move some of its highly radioactive waste into storage bunkers near the Vernon reactor. “Dry cask storage” has been discussed as an option for nuclear power plant waste for many years.

Now, as VPR’s John Dillon reports, the Yankee plant in Vernon is preparing its request for the Legislature.

(Dillon) Thirty years worth of highly dangerous spent fuel rods at Vermont Yankee are now stored deep in a pool of water near the reactor itself. This was always supposed to be temporary solution. But a permanent storage site in Nevada has been delayed for years.

The pool will be filled to capacity in 2007 or 2008. Yankee now wants to move the waste to dry concrete and steel casks built outside the reactor building. Rob Williams is a spokesman for Entergy-Vermont Yankee, the company that owns Vermont’s only nuclear power plant.

(Williams) “And so we’re looking ahead and planning on asking the state of Vermont for permission to go ahead with the construction of the dry cask storage facility. And in anticipation of that, we’re making sure that officials are fully briefed on what is involved in a dry cask storage facility.”

(Dillon) State law requires the Legislature to approve any new nuclear waste storage site. Yankee also needs approval from the Public Service Board as well as from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

(Williams) “It’s our obligation as a major supplier of electricity in Vermont to ensure that we have that project underway, in fact that we have fuel ready to be shipped as soon as the Department of Energy is ready to receive it.”

(Dillon) According to Williams, the dry cask storage would be used until 2010, when the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility in Nevada is scheduled to open. However, that timeframe may be optimistic. There’s fierce opposition in Nevada to making Yucca Mountain the nation’s major nuclear waste site.

Environmentalists worry that the dry casks at Yankee could end up becoming a permanent waste site in southern Vermont near the Connecticut River. Ray Shadis is with the New England Coalition.

(Shadis) “There are dozen of these dry cask facilities now around the United State. And not a single fuel assembly has been removed from any of them. They are all sitting there static and there is no guarantee that they are ever going to go to a national repository.”

(Dillon) Although he’s a leading critic of Vermont Yankee, Shadis is not necessarily opposed to the plan. He says it may be safer in the short term to store the radioactive waste away from the reactor.

(Shadis) “There’s a lot of advantages in terms of safety for dry cask storage. Number one, it isn’t a mass of fuel all in one container. If you lose coolant in that pool, if there’s an earthquake or a terrorist attack, or if you drop a cask through the bottom of spent fuel pool and lose the coolant in the pool, you have a chance of all the fuel becoming involved in an accident.”

(Dillon) Vermont Yankee will soon launch a public relations campaign on the issue. The company will take lawmakers and other community leaders on tours of Yankee Rowe, a decommissioned nuclear plant in nearby Massachusetts. The Rowe site uses dry cask storage for its nuclear waste.

Yankee also wants to permission to boost its power output by 20 percent. Without the power uprate, it would run out of storage in 2008. At the higher power level, the spent fuel pool is full in 2007.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

Related link:
The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission has information on dry cask storage on its Web site.

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