Yucca Mountain May Not Store All Vermont Yankee Waste

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(Host) The U.S. Senate has cleared the way for a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. But that may not completely solve Vermont’s radioactive waste problems.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) There’s hundreds of tons of highly radioactive material stored at Vermont Yankee, near the Connecticut River in Vernon. Yankee wants to bury that waste underground at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The Senate this week voted to approve the Nevada site.

Vermont Senator James Jeffords voted against the plan. He says most people don’t know that some radioactive waste will still need to be stored in Vermont – even after Yucca Mountain is built. That s because the planned Yucca site won’t be big enough for all the nuclear waste this country produces.

One report says the Nevada repository will be able to accept just 44% of the spent fuel that Vermont Yankee will have in 2010. But Yankee spokesman Rob Williams says Congress can expand the size of the waste site:

(Williams) We fully expect all our spent fuel will go to Yucca Mountain eventually. The limit on capacity is a bogus issue, a statutory limit left over when Congress sought two repositories. It’s not a limit on the site itself.

(Dillon) Congress in 1982 put a limit on the size of the Yucca Mountain site, saying it should hold 70,000 tons of radioactive waste.

That’s not enough. A federal environmental impact statement estimates that by the time Yucca Mountain is full, 42,000 tons of highly radioactive waste will still be scattered around the country.

Even under the most optimistic scenarios, waste won’t be shipped to Yucca Mountain until 2010. In Vermont, the Yankee plant runs out of its existing on-site storage in 2008. At Yankee, Rob Williams says the plant will consider storing the waste in dry casks near the Vernon reactor:

(Williams) It’s certainly an option here and something that we intend to pursue but it s also an option for the Department of Energy to begin temporary storage at Yucca Mountain. But realistically, we see that we’ll have to go to it here as the obvious next step to prepare to send spent fuel out to Nevada.

(Dillon) The Vermont Public Interest Research Group has campaigned against the Yucca Mountain site. VPIRG director Paul Burns says the Nevada site is located near an earthquake fault and may not be safe. He also says Yankee will still be stuck storing the waste on site:

(Burns) All we know right now is that Yucca Mountain will not be big enough to handle all the nuclear waste that is out there today or certainly that will be out there across the country by the time Yucca Mountain will be filled up in 40 years or so. And that means we’re going to have nuclear waste stored at Vermont Yankee, on the banks of the Connecticut River, for the foreseeable future.

(Dillon) The State of Vermont supported the Yucca Mountain Plan. State officials say it’s better to get at least some of the waste out of the Connecticut River flood plain.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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