Nuclear waste stranded at Indian Point as feds search for permanent solution via loud

The bold plan to rid the nation’s nuclear power plants of spent fuel that’s been piling up for decades is spelled out, down to the tiniest of details, in a 2002 Department of Energy report that took years to produce at a cost of billions of dollars.

It envisioned shipping the country’s nuclear waste to Nevada across a spider-like configuration of barge, rail and truck routes that terminate at Yucca Mountain in the Mojave Desert, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

For 15 years, the plans went nowhere as efforts to designate an underground repository for the nation’s nuclear waste foundered amid political opposition.

But in recent months, those routes have been debated anew as momentum builds in Congress for a way to rid the nation’s nuclear power plants of 76,000 metric tons of used fuel – enough spent fuel assemblies to cover a football field eight yards high if stacked end to end and side by side.


Over the course of decades, 58 shipments of spent fuel would be loaded on barges at Indian Point for the 42-mile trip down the Hudson at a leisurely 5 miles an hour pace, coursing under the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge and past New York City on the way to the seaport in New Jersey.

There, cement-and-steel casks of spent fuel, weighing as much as 100 tons, would be placed on rail cars for the 2,600-mile trip west to Yucca Mountain.

When the idea was first broached, state and local officials railed against the thought of nuclear waste floating down the Hudson.


Indian Point’s fuel problem

At Indian Point, some 1,100 spent fuel assemblies are already stored in 34 cement casks on a cement pad on site and more will be added in the years to come after they are cooled in pools located next to the plant’s two reactors.


Buchanan and the Town of Cortlandt, together with the Hendrick Hudson School District, stand to lose $32 million in annual tax revenues in the years after 2021, when Indian Point’s two reactors will be shut down.


Plant closings challenge small towns

Small towns in Vermont, Illinois and Wisconsin that once benefited from millions of dollars in property taxes generated by nuclear power plants are trying to come up with ways to close gaping holes in their budgets.

Several have thrown their support behind a bill in Congress that would set aside $100 million to compensate communities that are home to spent nuclear fuel until a permanent repository is opened.

After 30 years of false starts, groups on both sides of the debate question whether Yucca will ever open. Congressional watchdogs say that even if the House backs the Shimkus bill, success is not assured in the Senate. A companion bill has yet to be introduced.

They are, however, encouraged by the possibility of a compromise in the form of an interim storage site in New Mexico. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering a license application submitted by New Jersey-based Holtec to develop the site. Shimkus’ bill provides at least $50 million in funding for a single interim site for the years 2020-2025.


‘Screw Nevada 2’

Anti-nuclear groups fear that putting nuclear waste on the nation’s rails and rivers will expose greater numbers of people to dangerous amounts of radiation. They say creating interim sites will only exacerbate the problem since, eventually, the fuel will need to go to a permanent site.

“Moving it twice really doesn’t make sense,” said Greene, Clearwater’s environmental director.

The Maryland-based anti-nuclear group, Beyond Nuclear, has countered the Shimkus’ bill by highlighting the impact it could have on communities across the U.S.


Nuke fuel movements

Nuclear Energy Institute’s McCullum says he’s unpersuaded by such arguments. He says hundreds of shipments of Navy fuel have criss-crossed the country for decades on the way to sites in Georgia and Idaho.

The NRC says 1,300 spent fuel shipments have been completed safely in the United States over the past 35 years. Four were involved in accidents but none resulted in the release of radioactive material, the commission notes.


A 2016 study done for the DOE by Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee found that there have been 25,400 shipments – totaling roughly 87,000 metric tons – of spent fuel worldwide without injury or loss of life due to radioactive material.

Meantime, as the debate over a permanent repository continues in Congress, Puglisi and others are pushing for state legislation that would give towns the ability to tax spent fuel.

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