NRC decision shouldn’t affect Vt. nuke waste move
BRATTLEBORO, Vt. — A decision by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission this week not to endorse the transfer of spent nuclear fuel from pools to dry cask storage won’t have an effect on the anticipated transfer of the highly radioactive fuel at Vermont Yankee.
Christopher Recchia, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, criticized the decision by the NRC as “not helpful,” but said Entergy Nuclear had already made a firm commitment to move Yankee’s 3,000 spent fuel rods out of the spent fuel pool and into the casks.
Recchia said the NRC decision “flew in the face of good science.”
Yankee has 2,627 fuel assemblies in the spent-fuel pool, and another 368 in the reactor core, which will be removed to the spent-fuel pool early next year.
Entergy is expected to apply for a certificate of public good from the Public Service Board late next month to build a second storage pad to hold the large concrete casks. Another 884 fuel assemblies are stored in 13 casks north of the reactor building.
And in a letter that Entergy Nuclear sent to the town of Vernon and the Windham Regional Commission in anticipation of its application, it said “keeping the spent fuel in the spent-fuel pool is not a substitute for construction a second storage pad.”
Many nuclear activists — as well as U.S. senators and the state of Vermont — believe that spent fuel is much safer in concrete and steel “dry” casks, rather than a deep water pool in Yankee’s reactor building, which requires more maintenance and security.
Entergy Nuclear spokesman Robert Williams said Thursday the commission’s decision would not affect Entergy’s Vermont Yankee fuel plans.
During the nuclear accident in Fukushima, the loss of cooling water in the spent fuel pools caused a partial meltdown, and the NRC has been in the process of coming up with post-Fukushima recommendations to enhance security.
Entergy said its timetable called for all the fuel to be moved out of the spent fuel pool by 2020, with “loading campaigns” scheduled for 2019 and 2020.
Entergy noted that Vermont Yankee cannot be decommissioned “until all spent fuel has been removed from the spent fuel pool and it is not known at this time when the Department of Energy will accept spent fuel for permanent off-site storage.”
The decision by the NRC was also protested by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., as well as Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who earlier this month introduced legislation to address the issue and require the removal of spent fuel to dry casks.
The commission voted 4-1 against requiring the accelerated transfer of spent nuclear fuel to dry cask storage. It was part of the NRC’s post-Fukushima review and recommendations.
Recchia said that Entergy had agreed to transfer all of Vermont Yankee’s fuel to casks by 2021, which would give the company time to build its second storage facility, as well as let the newest fuel time to cool in the spent fuel pool.
Paying for the transfer is an issue that still has to be negotiated, Recchia said.
Recchia said the second storage facility is expected to cost between $40 million and $60 million, and Entergy wants to finance the construction from Yankee’s decommissioning trust fund.
The Department of Energy has been slow in reimbursing nuclear companies for the costs of storing the fuel, something DOE was supposed to do.
Entergy in April sued DOE for $88 million to pay for the ongoing storage of spent fuel, saying it has spent that amount since 2008. The company had won an earlier similar legal dispute against DOE.