NRC wants waste stored for century

Tuesday January 4, 2011

BRATTLEBORO -- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has written a revision of the Waste Confidence Decision which could allow spent fuel and high-level waste to be stored at nuclear facilities for more than 120 years.

"This analysis will go well beyond the current analysis that supports at least 60 years of post-licensed life storage with eventual disposal in a deep geologic repository," the commission explains in the recently published Federal Register notice.

The presidentially appointed, five-member commission that oversees the NRC, in 2008 decided to take a fresh look at the decision of how long and how much waste produced by nuclear power plants can be safely stored on-site past operation.

There is "reasonable assurance that sufficient mined geologic repository capacity will be available to dispose of the commercial high-level radioactive waste and spent fuel generated in any reactor when necessary," the commission stated.

Previous language stated that at least one mined geologic repository will be available within the first quarter of the 21st century, according to Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the NRC.

When a disposal facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada was proposed in the mid-1980s, it was estimated that it would be opened between 2007 and 2009. Legal and environmental challenges have slowed the process and the recent withdrawal of funding may have postponed the project indefinitely.

"In terms of the disposal of spent fuel and high-level waste, the revisions to the Waste Confidence Decision reflect the reality that a repository for the material remains unavailable," Sheehan wrote in an e-mail. "There is no clear path at this point for the opening of such a facility."

Since the issue of spent fuel storage is handled on a generic basis for plants seeking re-licensing, the decision won't be considered separately with respect to Vermont Yankee.

Entergy, which owns and operates the nuclear plant in Vernon, has applied to the NRC to extend the operating license from 2012 to 2032. In addition to NRC approval, Entergy must receive a certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Service Board and approval from the state Legislature.

Last year the Senate voted 26 to 4 against the plant's continued operation and Gov.-elect Peter Shumlin has vowed to shut the plant down.

Josh Stilts can be reached at, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.


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