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VERNON -- Should Vermont take a stand on  a national proposal to create an interim nuclear waste storage facility in either Texas or New Mexico, in hopes of moving the tons of high-level radioactive waste currently being stored on the grounds of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant?

The issues committee of the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen Advisory Panel tackled that question last Thursday, and agreed to have the full panel discuss the issue at its full meeting next month.

The issue of a consolidated interim waste storage facility is more complex than it appears, since getting rid of the four dozen giant steel and concrete casks in Vernon, filled with the dangerous nuclear fuel, would seem like a no-brainer. The town of Vernon wants to redevelop the Yankee site, once the reactor is demolished and cleaned up.

But Lissa Weinmann of Brattleboro, vice-chairwoman of the decommissioning panel, wants the group to retract a letter written in 2015 in support of what is now called 'interim waste storage.'  She wants the group to pass an advisory opinion on the issue of consolidated interim storage.

A business partner, Interim Storage Partners,  of NorthStar Group Services ,which now owns Vermont Yankee while it is decommissioning and cleaning up the Vernon reactor, wants to build one such facility in west Texas; another company, Holtec International, which makes the nuclear storage casks,  has proposed to build one in New Mexico. The two proposals are currently pending before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

But Weinmann said consolidated interim storage is a complicated subject, and she said moving the waste -- thousands of highly radioactive fuel rods -- should only be done once -- to a permanent facility.

Moving nuclear waste from plants all over the country to either west Texas or New Mexico, and again on to another, yet-to-be-determined site, is asking for trouble, she said.

The then-panel chairwoman Kate O'Connor, signed the letter in 2015 supporting interim waste storage without discussing it with the full panel, she said. Weinmann said the letter was part of a regional effort by decommissioned nuclear power plants.

The issues committee agreed to discuss the matter at the panel's full meeting on Dec. 7. The panel has been holding its meetings electronically since the pandemic.

Josh Unruh, the chairman of the citizen panel, said the full group would vote on whether to pursue an advisory opinion on the subject. 

Weinmann said consolidated interim storage was a "major policy change" and was currently being discussed in the U.S. Congress. Vermont's lone congressman, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., had signed on to a letter supporting interim storage, she said, under the impression the full panel supported the concept.

Tony Leshinskie, the Vermont Department of Public Service's staff nuclear engineer, said back in 2015 the political landscape was very different, with the Obama Administration opposed to the permanent storage site at Yucca Mountain, Nev. 

The two interim sites have local government support, he said, but opposition from the local communities.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com.


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