Government’s liability is $34 billion and growing as communities wait and wait some more
In Zion, Illinois, 257 acres of prime lakefront property about 40 miles northwest of Chicago should be at the center of a redevelopment plan to revive a struggling community caught in the aftermath of a closed nuclear plant, says its mayor, Al Hill.
But after decades of federal inaction on a comprehensive strategy to move the nation’s high-level radioactive waste from some 121 sites across the country, Zion and its local officials are coming to the same stark realization as many other communities with shuttered or aging plants: The federal government’s foot-dragging on nuclear waste policy may seem as long as the radioactive materials’ 10,000-year half-life.
Some 64 so-called dry cask storage units containing 2.2 million pounds of deadly spent nuclear fuel rods are stored on the site of what was the Zion Nuclear Power Station, the remnants from generating nuclear power since 1974. And they’ve left Zion in a kind of purgatory, unable to move on from its nuclear past even as it must shoulder the public safety and health risks from the inability of Congress and multiple administrations to decide how to dispose of the radioactive waste.
Aside from disposing of the spent fuel, the plant’s shutdown, or decommissioning, has gone well. The process is running nearly a decade ahead of the original timeline and below budget.
The plant was shut down in 1998 after an operating error caused a breakdown in equipment deemed to be too costly to warrant fixing, according to its owner, Exelon Corp. of Chicago. It chose instead to close the reactor and ready it for a tear-down that it estimated would take 30 years to complete.
“Zion is the poster child for what some of these communities can look forward to,” said Illinois Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider. “Here we are 20 years later, spent fuel is still on the shore, 100 yards from Lake Michigan and still having an economic impact on the community, and there’s no end in sight.”
Flanked by Hill and Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth in the shadows of the storage canisters holding Zion’s waste, Schneider introduced legislation a year ago that would provide grants and tax credits to compensate communities for the negative economic effects of storing nuclear waste.
More than 80,000 metric tons of high-level nuclear waste are stored at nuclear reactor sites in more than 35 states. The longer the waste sits, the more the government will be forced to compensate nuclear power producers for its inaction.
Estimates place the government’s liability from nuclear waste at $34 billion and growing, a number that doesn’t include the effects on the communities unable to reuse the land.
Read more at Failures of Congress Keep Nuclear Waste Scattered Across the US