Consolidating nuclear wastes won't end spent-fuel problem, group warns
Greg Gordon, firstname.lastname@example.org
June 24, 2002
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Even if a Nevada mountain site is turned into a nuclear
waste repository and filled to capacity by the year 2038, at least 30
nuclear power plants are likely to have even more spent fuel on site than
they do now, an environmental group said Sunday.
Other plants still would have sizable stores of highly radioactive waste on
site, including Xcel Energy Inc.'s twin-reactor Prairie Island facility near
Red Wing, Minn., which would have 344 metric tons, 51 percent of its current
total, according to the Environmental Working Group.
Ken Cook, the group's president, said its analysis of U.S. Energy Department
data shows that administration officials "have not leveled with the public,
including the news media" in pushing for the repository at Nevada's Yucca
Mountain as a way to consolidate deadly waste from 131 sites and therefore
reduce the risk of terrorism.
"They're claiming that it's better to have the waste at one location --
Yucca Mountain -- than scattered all over the country, and that's a false
framing of the issue," Cook said. "At all of the operating reactors, there
will still be waste."
Officials of the Energy Department, the nuclear industry and Xcel did not
dispute the group's figures but said the Yucca site would dramatically
improve the nation's management of the waste, which takes 10,000 years to
Energy Department spokesman Joe Davis said creating a national disposal site
would allow removal of all waste from 10 closed nuclear plants, from
nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers and from nuclear weapons
plants. Besides, he said, Congress can enlarge Yucca's 70,000-metric ton
Xcel's Prairie Island plant is due in the year 2007 to become the first
nuclear plant in the nation to run out of space for its waste. Its problem
could be eased if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses a temporary
disposal site on a Utah Indian reservation for spent fuel from Xcel and
seven other utilities.
Yucca's future hinges on a Senate vote next month on whether to authorize
the Energy Department to seek a license for a permanent disposal facility at
the remote ridge 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. President Bush authorized
a license application in February, but Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn vetoed the
decision, a right he was granted under the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
The law gave Congress 90 legislative days -- in this case until July 25 --
to override his veto. The House voted to override in May. The Senate vote is
expected to be close.
Minnesota Democratic Sens. Paul Wellstone and Mark Dayton have said they are
undecided. Both have expressed concern about shipping the material across
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has warned that without the site, the waste
will remain scattered in 39 states, where "161 million people live within 75
miles of one or more nuclear waste sites, all of which were intended to be
Abraham has cited national security in his licensing recommendation, and
Davis says the repository will reduce terrorism risks.
The Environmental Working Group argues, however, that waste will remain at
all operating commercial plants and that shipping it by rail or truck could
raise terrorism risks without ridding plants of the waste.
The group has introduced a Web site -- www.mapscience.org -- that
allows people to type in an address and find out how close it is to routes
being considered for rail or truck shipment of the nuclear waste to Yucca.
Possible routes include a rail line that runs through St. Paul and
Brian Greenspun, publisher of the Las Vegas Sun, contributed $200,000 toward
the cost of the Web site. Cook said his group takes no position on nuclear
power and just wants an honest debate.
Xcel's director of nuclear asset management, Scott Northard, said the Yucca
repository remains the best way for the government to catch up with
contractual commitments to accept the industry's waste by 1998. He said
opening the site also would enable many plants to avoid the predicament of
Prairie Island and more than a dozen other facilities, which have exhausted
space for their spent fuel in cooling pools and resorted to storing waste in
costly above-ground casks. If Yucca opens, Northard said, "we would ship
enough to empty out the dry storage pad and to open up space in the pool so
we can efficiently operate the plant."
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