Illinois Biggest Atomic Dump as U.S. Fails to Pick Site via Bloomberg

U.S. lawmakers have debated for decades where to put all the spent fuel generated by the nation’s nuclear power plants. The dithering means that an unintended site has emerged: Illinois.

About 13 percent of America’s 70,000 metric tons of the radioactive waste is stashed in pools of water or in special casks at the atomic plants in Illinois that produced it, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington-based industry group. That’s the most held in any state.

Across the country, atomic power plants “have become de facto major radioactive waste-management operations,” Robert Alvarez, a former adviser to Energy Department secretaries during President Bill Clinton’s administration, said in a phone interview.

With no place to send their waste, power plants in 30 states — which generate about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity — are doubling as dumps for spent fuel that remains dangerous for thousands of years. Another four states without operating reactors store spent fuel at closed plants. It is an expensive and, according to some critics, unsafe practice for which the plants weren’t designed and that may end up costing taxpayers billions of dollars.


Yucca Mountain

After Illinois, which also has more reactors than any other state, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and New York have the most waste temporarily stored at power plants.

Since 1998, the U.S. government has been required by law to remove nuclear waste from plants and haul it to a secure disposal site — though it hasn’t because none has been built. Congress in 1987 designated one for Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, a project that President Barack Obama’s administration cut funding for in 2010 at the urging of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.


A dry-cask storage facility at a plant can cost as much as $20 million to build and $7 million a year to maintain, according to the industry group, and about 71 percent of the nation’s spent fuel now remains in the pools.

Some environmental groups say that percentage is too high and that more of the waste should be moved to the casks, which are made by companies including Areva SA of Paris, as soon as possible.

100 Years

“You’ve got to repackage them every 100 years,” he said in a phone interview. “Saying you’re going to do that for the next half a million years is a little over the top.”

Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission recommended in its report last year that the U.S. begin work on a temporary storage site.

“Regardless of what happens with Yucca Mountain, the U.S. inventory of spent nuclear fuel will soon exceed the amount” that the facility could have legally held, it said.

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