Vermont Yankee nuclear waste storage time could increase

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(Host) High level nuclear waste could be stored at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant for up to 70 years, if the federal government fails to build its own storage site.

A state consultant told lawmakers about that possibility today.

But some lawmakers were not pleased. They said that when they debated a Yankee waste plan two years ago, they were assured the radioactive material would be there for 20 years at the most.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Members of the House and Senate Energy Committee met at the Statehouse to discuss a number of studies that look at Vermont’s energy future.

The state is preparing a study on the future of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. So state nuclear consultant Bill Sherman was on the speaker phone talking about the high level nuclear waste that’s stored on site.

(Sherman) “Well, we assume 70 years but in a closely monitored situation.”

(Dillon) Sherman said the spent fuel will be stored in large concrete and steel casks. Yankee is licensed to use the casks for 20 years.

But Sherman said the waste could be there a lot longer because the federal government has failed to build a nuclear waste repository.

(Sherman) “None of those schedules that have been put out in the last 30 years have been achieved. It’s a very frustrating situation for the state of Vermont.”

(Dillon) But Senator Mark MacDonald, an Orange County Democrat, said lawmakers were under the impression the waste would be stored at the Connecticut River site temporarily.

(MacDonald) “We were told over and over again: ten years, maybe a dozen years, maybe 20 years. And today, we’re not being told the same thing.”

(Dillon) MacDonald said the Legislature will have the final say on whether Yankee will operate for another 20 years, after its license expires in 2012.

(MacDonald) “And much of our decision is going to be based upon assurances from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the industry that certain commitments will be made in a certain time period. And your candor that similar assurances in the past have been unfulfilled makes this a very challenging decision.”

(Dillon) The questions about Vermont Yankee are part of a broader discussion on Vermont’s energy future.

A few years after the Yankee license ends, contracts with Hydro Quebec also expire. Both sources make up about two-thirds of
Vermont’s electricity supply.

The state faces big choices in the years ahead about energy. So the Legislature last year required a comprehensive outreach effort to get the public involved.

Steve Wark is consumer affairs director for the Department of Public Service. He says the state will use regional workshops, on-line tools, and professional polling to gather public input. Wark said industry lobbyists and advocacy groups already have a voice in the debate.

(Wark) “And that’s important. But what we’re interested in in this process is hearing what mainstream Vermonters want. Do they want to pay more money for different types of energy? Are they content with where we are right now? Do they want a different portfolio arrangement? Those are the important questions. And we think Vermonters have the wisdom to answer these questions. They just need to have the opportunity and the time and the resources to do it. And that’s why we’re so excited about it.”

(Dillon) The state has hired two consultants to help with the public engagement project. In October, it will host a series of regional workshops to hear what the public has to say.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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