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Vermont Yankee

Mass., other states criticize nuke waste storage handling

MONTPELIER, Vt. — The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission isn’t doing enough to assess the environmental and safety concerns of storing high-level radioactive waste at nuclear power plants across the country, the state of Vermont said Thursday.

Vermont, joined by New York and Massachusetts, again have formally criticized the way the NRC is handling the issue of high-level radioactive waste. Filing the comments were Attorney General William Sorrell and the Shumlin administration, in the form of the Department of Public Service and the Agency of Natural Resources.

“The NRC staff is working on an Environmental Impact Statement to address deficiencies identified by the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals,” Sheehan wrote in an email.

In comments filed with the NRC Wednesday, Vermont said the NRC was not following a ruling last year by the District of Columbia federal circuit court that ordered the NRC to do a better job evaluating sites for the long-term storage of the radioactive waste.

Currently, there are 2,507 fuel assemblies stored on site at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon in its five-story spent fuel pool, with another 884 fuel assemblies in 13 concrete and steel casks outside the reactor building.

Sorrell said Thursday that the NRC was “taking the very long term storage way too lightly, and the D.C. circuit (court) agreed with us.”

“Despite the DC circuit really reading the riot act to the NRC, we’re saying in this filing that the NRC hasn’t listened very closely. We’re saying, ‘We’re going to be watching,’” Sorrell said in a telephone interview.

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said Vermont, New York and Massachusetts, and Nye County in Nevada — the home county of the proposed and currently rejected Yucca Mountain federal repository — were the only states to file comments by Wednesday, although he said it was possible other states filed but sent their comments by mail.

Sheehan said the NRC had received about 700 comments on its proposed plan for dealing with the so-called “waste confidence rule.” He said it would be next year before the NRC responds to all the comments.

Entergy Nuclear spokesman Jim Sinclair said Thursday that Entergy had not filed individual comments, but was relying on a filing by the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry group, to support the NRC’s plans and timetable.

Sorrell said that in this case, the state was not prohibited from raising questions about nuclear safety at Vermont Yankee, since the state was commenting on federal regulations.

“We can certainly express our opinions,” said Sorrell, who said the three states believed the NRC was “dropping the ball” on the issue of storage.

According to the Vermont filing, any federal solution to the conundrum of storing the spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants — which remain dangerously radioactive for thousands of years — is decades away. And moving the existing nuclear waste from individual sites to any repository will take 20 years.

Vermont Yankee ran out of storage about five years ago, and got approval from both Vermont and the NRC to build its so-called dry cask storage facility.

Even anti-nuclear activists support the building of dry cask storage facilities, saying the concrete and steel casks are safer than the spent fuel pool.

Sorrell pointed out that the federal appeals court in the nation’s capital had also questioned the “reasonableness” of the NRC approving new nuclear plant or extending nuclear plants’ licenses until the storage of radioactive waste issue is resolved.

The re-licensing of Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant in New Hampshire, Indian Point Energy Center in New York and Limerick Nuclear Power Plant in Pennsylvania — among others — is on hold until the issue is resolved, Sheehan said.

Sorrell said he believed that the 20-year license extension granted to the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in 2011 should be “revisited,” in light of the federal court ruling.

Sheehan said the draft environmental impact statement might be available by August 2014.

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