Why won’t Holtec store its emergency cask on site at Oyster Creek?
By Linda Pentz Gunter
If a spent fuel storage cask at the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey has a serious problem that requires additional containment, the company in charge of managing the waste and decommissioning of the now closed nuclear plant says it has a solution.
Holtec claims that if a cask on the nuclear power plant site goes bad, it will bring in its special, larger “transportation cask”, stored at the company’s headquarters in Camden, NJ. The reportedly “massive” emergency cask, made of concrete and steel, would be transported to the Oyster Creek site by barge.
But would this work?
If any kind of radiological cask hazard does arise at Oyster Creek, that “emergency cask”, a sort of Russian doll that will “overpack” the leaking or damaged one, needs to arrive on time. Past history suggests that transporting such a heavy piece of equipment on a circuitous journey by barge is an unreliable choice.
A better alternative would be to have the emergency overpack cask already on site. But would this send the wrong public relations message, suggesting there is a possibility that a serious cask problem could arise after all?
The agreement to have an overpack cask at the ready in Camden, with the cask estimated to cost $10 million, is part of a settlement agreement with Lacey Township, the municipality within which the Oyster Creek plant sits. The Township had initially objected to Holtec’s plans to expand the ISFSI to accommodate more waste casks. An exchange of law suits followed.
The township has now agreed that a super cask, on albeit distant standby, addresses their emergency planning concerns and will allow Holtec to add 20 casks to a new storage pad, and place 14 more on an existing site that currently holds 34 casks.
Even more disappointingly, Lacey Township also supports the eventual transport of those casks to a Consolidated Interim Storage site in New Mexico, not uncoincidentally owned by, yes, Holtec.
Furthermore, Holtec has moved successfully to do away with an emergency planning zone that extends beyond the boundaries of the Oyster Creek site.
“The emergency planning zone was reduced to the site boundary,” Holtec explains on its website. “With the reactor no longer in operation, and the multiple defense in depth options to maintain adequate level in the spent fuel pool, the scientific basis for the reduction is warranted,” the company says.
Guess what else won’t need an emergency planning zone beyond a nuclear site boundary fence, according to the nuclear industry and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission? Small Modular Reactors (SMRs).
No surprise then that, in addition to decommissioning the Oyster Creek site, and owning the casks and the waste dump to which the fuel storage casks could later be transported, Holtec is also lining up to bring in its own design of SMR.
With typical braggadocio, Holtec describes its SMRs as “safe and secure”, “economic and efficient,” and “reliable and environmentally-friendly”, which, if we can resist pulling an Emma Gonzalez on them, could at the very least be described as breathtakingly over-stated. For starters, none of the various theoretical SMR designs has even remotely passed any kind of meaningful safety test.