Anti-nuclear groups urge action against national waste dump

  • The Citizens Awareness Network’s mock nuclear waste canister. Picasa—SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt., on the banks of the Connecticut River. File photo

Staff Writer
Published: 9/17/2018 11:52:03 PM

With closure and dismantling of the Yankee Atomic plant in Rowe and now Vermont Yankee and other New England nuclear sites pretty much a fait accompli, watchdog groups like Citizens Awareness Network are focused on the one tremendous remaining issue: the high-level nuclear waste remaining on the reactor sites.

CAN is planning a tour with a giant can — a 32-foot-long wooden mock-up of a radioactive waste cask — and an array of speakers to speak about what the organization calls “the abdication by the federal government and the nuclear industry” to deal with high-level nuclear waste “stranded” at nuclear sites around the area.

The tour, beginning Sept. 18 in Montpelier, Vt., and the following evening in Brattleboro, Vt., will be at Hawks and Reed Performance Center in Greenfield on Sept 20 at 7 p.m. The presentation will include the Wildcat O’Halloran Band, activist and actor Court Dorsey in the role of “Will Nukem,” and a host of speakers. The tour will continue the following day to the State House in Boston and end up at the Pilgrim Station nuclear plant in Plymouth on Sept 22.

Speakers will include Kerstin Rudek from the Germany’s Peoples Initiative that through years of protests halted transfer of nuclear waste to a repository in Gorleben; Tim Judson of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service; Deb Katz and Chris Williams of CAN and Leona Morgan from the Navajo Nation.

The tour is timed around the 340-72 approval by the House of Representatives this spring of Nuclear Waste Policy Act Amendments, on which a Senate vote is expected after the midterm elections. The bill, HR 3053, would restart the process to open a high-level waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, and to establish two temporary waste storage sites in west Texas and New Mexico.

CAN opposes the legislation, arguing that what is needed is a scientifically sound, environmentally just and permanent solution to high-level waste now stored at 121 sites in 39 states. The country doesn’t need “parking lot dumps for interim storage,” says CAN.

The Vermont Yankee site in Vernon, Vt., has 58 dry storage casks containing all the spent nuclear fuel used during Vermont Yankee’s 42 years of operation, while the Yankee Atomic site in Rowe has 16 dry casks from 32 years of operation there through 1992. Nearly all of the casks contain 36 highly radioactive spent-fuel assemblies.

A December 2010 tally of nuclear waste at commercial plants around New England found there were 6,340 metric tons of highly radioactive spent fuel at reactor sites around the region, according to a 2011 Institute of Policy Studies report.

CAN spokesman Harvey Shaktman said, “We as communities want it out of here. We want it to be in safe place where its never moved again. We think it’s lunacy to move it twice.”

The Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel heard in June from a U. S. Department of Energy official that it would take seven years to build the necessary rail transportation capability for work with a central depository to begin.

Waste Control Specialists, which operates the West Texas low-level waste repository where Vermont Yankee’s low-level waste has been sent as part of a Texas-Vermont compact, has been lobbying federal officials to establish a pilot interim high-level waste repository on a different part of its sprawling site, the panel was told at the time.

Richard Saudek, a member of the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission, told the panel that when the facility — which also includes a repository for federal nuclear waste — was first approved under the control of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, it was believed that it sits on the Ogallala Acquifer, the largest aquifer in the country.

WCS is owned by the same holding company that owns NorthStar, which is awaiting a decision by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Vermont Public Utility Commission on its planned purchase of Vermont Yankee for decommissioning.

Katz said, “This is one of the most excruciating aspects of dealing with nuclear power: the decommissioning and dealing with all the toxic waste they’ve created over 40 years or more. The best solution at this point — to dump it in the ground, put some concrete around it, and put it in a ‘parking lot.’ This waste should move just once, and it has to be done right.”

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