EDITORIAL: Punting again on nuclear waste via MyCentralJersey.com

Talk about dropping a hot potato in a way that provides absolutely no incentive for anyone to pick it up — ever. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently decided that nuclear waste from power plants can be stored above ground in casks indefinitely. The vote to approve it was 4-0.

Given that spent fuel stored at nuclear power plants will remain dangerous to humans for at least 10,000 years and harmful to the environment for 1 million years more, the mere suggestion that the waste will be properly stored, maintained and protected is ludicrous. And the problem, now exacerbated by the NRC finding, is not a distant one.

Jersey Shore residents are living cheek by jowl with more than 750 metric tons of radioactive waste stored in Lacey in the spent fuel rod pool at the Exelon-owned Oyster Creek plant.

The pool sits 70 feet in the air, and is covered by a box-store type metal roof. Used fuel assemblies containing a cocktail of radioactive isotopes are jam-packed into the pool, holding about eight times more than its original design capacity. An NRC report on the Peach Bottom plant in Pennsylvania indicated that even a small nuclear reactor fuel pool fire could leave 9,400 square miles uninhabitable and indefinitely displace 4.1 million people. Just imagine what such a report would reveal about a similar reactor fire at Oyster Creek. And try to imagine thousands of Jersey Shore residents fleeing the area given its limited evacuation routes.

Still, the Oyster Creek plant is not scheduled to close until 2019 and the spent fuel rods will be able to sit there until half-past “Who knows when?”

And then what? A whole lot of nothing, given this NRC finding.

At the very least, the state should insist that work begin on moving the rods into state-of-the-art dry casks — sealed metal cylinders containing the spent fuel enclosed within a metal or concrete outer shell — as soon as Oyster Creek ceases operation. That would be better than the current state of affairs, but real progress is a long way off.

The Energy Department is now saying that a burial site for the nation’s nuclear waste will be established by 2048, but the agency has no plan for finding one.

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