Written by Glenn Carroll and Stephen Wing with Nuclear Watch South
Since the dawn of the nuclear age 75 years ago, no repository to contain the long-lived radioactive wastes from nuclear power has been established. The U.S. government made two devil’s bargains when it promoted nuclear reactors to electrical utilities in the late 1960s. First, all liability from any accident anywhere in the nuclear industry was removed from the companies profiting off the technology under the Price Anderson Act. Second, the Federal government pledged to take title to the deadly high-level radioactive waste contained in the spent fuel rods.
A nuclear reactor the size of Vogtle in Georgia generates 30 tons of high-level radioactive spent fuel each year. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1984 mandates that “spent fuel,” that is, long-lived, fiercely radioactive, used reactor fuel, must be placed into permanent deep geologic burial. In a moved called “Screw Nevada” lawmakers attempted to site the mandatory nuclear dump at Yucca Mountain near Las Vegas, because the State with only two congressional seats was too weak to fight back. The site still belongs to the Western Shoshone Tribe under the 1892 Treaty of Ruby Valley, and, among other problems, collusion to cover up the amount of water that would reach the supposedly dry repository was exposed in emails exchanged by the U.S. Geologic Society. The dump was cancelled under Obama and Trump’s feeble efforts to revive Yucca Mountain have been unsuccessful.
The deadline for the U.S. government to take title to the spent fuel reactor waste came and went in 1998. Meanwhile the past 40 years have seen myriad attempts to site a temporary dump calling it “Consolidated Interim Storage” AKA CIS. The current version of CIS is at existing low-level radioactive waste dumps on the border of Texas and New Mexico both of which are seeking to expand their licenses to accept the hotter class of waste. Both Texas’ and New Mexico’s governors are opposed to the respective dumps which threaten not only their States but also the vast underground Oglala Aquifer.
Also in the meanwhile, safe energy activists have hammered out an alternative plan to harden the waste storage at the site of generation to protect it from terrorist attack, earthquakes, floods and fire. The worst conceivable radiological accident would be a fire in a spent fuel storage pool at the reactor. The risk is very real as the spent fuel rods, if not kept cool in chilled water, would burst into flames and the pools are storing four to seven times the fuel they were designed to hold because of the delay in opening a repository. Because of this risk, the concept of H.O.S.S. (Hardened On Site Storage) was developed to avoid the risks of transporting spent nuclear fuel twice and the risk of consolidating the nations inventory of spent nuclear fuel in an aboveground parking lot.
Recently, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) conducted an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which must include a forum for public comment. Stephen Wing who is active on the board of directors of Nuclear Watch South submitted the following comments:
Letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Written by Stephen Wing
I live in the Atlanta neighborhood of Lake Claire, about 100 yards from the CSX railroad tracks that pass through many densely populated communities across the city. The Interim Storage Partners (ISP) proposal to transport nuclear waste to Texas from nuclear power plants around the country presents an unacceptable risk to my family, my neighbors, and millions of others like us who live near the railroads, highways and waterways that would bear the most toxic cargo ever shipped.
The history of nuclear energy is a history of thousands of accidents and near-accidents involving human error and technical malfunctions, only a fraction of which have been revealed to the public as required by law. Frankly, I don’t trust this industry or its partners at the NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] to safely conduct an operation like this massive and unnecessary continent-wide transfer of nuclear waste. A catastrophic accident is only a matter of time.
As federal regulators of the nuclear industry, the NRC’s overriding concern should be to ensure the safety of the American people. Yet neither in the cask certification processes nor in this draft EIS [environmental impact statement] have you have adequately considered the environmental impacts of transporting radioactive waste. The dangers of hotter “high burn up” irradiated fuel were not even considered in most analyses. The ISP proposal transfers the risk from the utilities that irresponsibly pursued the profits of nuclear energy to vulnerable citizens like me.
Thousands of intensely radioactive shipments, over decades, would travel through most of the states, a vast majority of Congressional districts, mostly by train but also by road and barge on vital waterways. The potential impacts are not “small.” The reports used to make this conclusion underestimate the probability of serious accidents, especially for rail freight and fires.
Fires could cause cask lid bolts to stretch. Radioactive gases and particulates could get out via valves or a fire that is hotter and longer-lasting than your projections. Many transport fires have burned longer than the 1/2-hour or 3 hours NRC considers in its analysis. Ever-higher numbers of tankers with flammable chemicals on the rails increase the likelihood of high-temperature fires in densely populated neighborhoods like mine. These and other scenarios could cause cask failure and radioactive releases.
The draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) fails to adequately assess the environmental impacts of the containers that would be used to transport and store the waste. NRC staff have stated that cask concerns must be addressed when the NRC certifies the casks, but communities like mine, through which the shipments would move, and those in the vicinity of the proposed storage site have not had the chance to participate in the cask certifications due to timing, lack of notification, and lack of opportunity to engage in an adjudicatory way.
I object to these unnecessary risks and ask NRC to reject the ISP license application.