Braus: The storage of nuclear waste threatens our future

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In November, 2014, I attended a conference with 70 other anti-nuclear activists, many of whom have a deep technical grasp of the overwhelming problem of safely isolating toxic radioactive waste.

As Vermont Yankee is closing, local people are learning the ugly truth of nuclear energy — that the sites hosting nuclear reactors for four or five decades will probably be hosting high-level waste forever Those of us living in the region around the reactor should have a voice in the manner in which this waste is stored. However, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Entergy, a corporation with no long-term commitment to our region, will be making all the choices.

Entergy's decision to build a concrete pad in the flood plain of the Connecticut River and store the tons of high level radioactive waste in Holtec casks seems like a fine interim solution to the waste storage problem until you delve more deeply into the issue.

Are these casks flood proof? In the era of a warming planet and sea-level rising, does anyone know if these casks protect the environment from their lethal contents when they are immersed?

How are these casks monitored for cracking and radioactive emissions? The NRC requires examining of 1 cask per site out of dozens, only once every 25 years. These casks have a history of cracking, and, due to the relatively short time these casks have been in use, nobody knows if they will maintain structural integrity in 50 or 100 years.

Should this incredibly dangerous waste be out on a concrete pad? Would we all be safer if it were in a reinforced building, or at least behind a berm, and not so vulnerable to attack by a terrorist or a deranged person.

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How can Entergy withdraw all funding from the Emergency Planning Zone process next year? The risky process of moving the highly radioactive spent fuel from the pool into the casks will not be completed until some time around 2020.

Far more technically sophisticated casks are used in Germany, France, and Japan — casks with a thicker metal wall, and allowing for real time remote monitoring to alert those in charge of the waste should there be a pressure change , or another worrisome development. Why are these casks not even in use in the United States?

There is a reason why those who understand the risks of moving this waste to a central repository label the process "mobile Chernobyl." If there should be an accident, the area around the site could be forever uninhabitable. Our rail lines and interstate highways travel through urban areas, endangering millions of citizens. Our roads, rails, and bridges have many structural weaknesses due to neglected and deferred maintenance. As desirable as it would be to rid the Vermont Yankee site of this waste, can we support the transport of this most toxic cargo?

If a cask fails and the waste needs to be transferred to a new cask, can it be done? The only method for moving fuel from one cask into another is in a fuel pool. Yankee's fuel pool will be taken down as part of decommissioning. The nuclear industry promises that new technology will be available, but we have heard their promises about future waste storage methods before and cannot trust them to come through.

The idea that we have no say in creating the safest possible high level waste repository in our region is unacceptable. The only hope in this dangerous process is to change the federal laws that allow corporations to hold all the cards.

We would like our home to be livable into the distant future.

Nancy Braus is a member of the Safe and Green Campaign. She lives in Putney.


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