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CSG joins presidential commission to discuss future of nuclear waste

by Lisa Janairo ~ December 2010 ~ Stateline Midwest
Last month, a U.S. presidential commission heard from Midwestern experts about radioactive-waste facility siting and transportation.

The Transportation and Storage Subcommittee of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future gathered in Chicago last month to learn about storing and transporting highly radioactive spent fuel from the nation’s nuclear power plants.

Appointed in January 2010 by President Obama, the commission is examining options for managing nuclear waste now that the plans for completing a repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada have been cancelled. During the Nov. 2 meeting, the panel looked at shut-down plants, facility-siting processes and requirements for transporting spent fuel.

John Herron, president and CEO of Entergy Nuclear, shared a utility’s perspective regarding the issue of nuclear waste storage and disposal. He cited the example of Michigan’s Big Rock Point reactor, located on a 585-acre site on the shore of Lake Michigan. Shut down in 1997, the plant was decommissioned in 2006.

Remaining on the site, however, are eight radioactive waste storage casks, seven of which contain spent fuel. These casks will stay at the site until the federal government fulfills its obligation to remove them.

While the nation waits for a repository to replace Yucca Mountain, Herron believes the federal government should fund a demonstration project to move spent fuel from sites like Big Rock Point to a centralized storage facility. Such a project would benefit the utilities and their customers by eliminating the need for ongoing security and maintenance costs (which, for Big Rock Point, are $2.5 million annually).

Local communities, too, would benefit from the opportunity to use the property for other purposes, he said. In addition, the nation would benefit from the insights and experience gained and by building public confidence in the federal government’s ability to manage highly radioactive waste.

CSG Midwest committee weighs in

Representatives of The Council of State Governments’ Midwestern Radioactive Materials Transportation Committee were among the experts who addressed the Blue Ribbon Commission.

One of the committee members who spoke to the panel was Tim Runyon, a nuclear-safety expert from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

Runyon discussed the history of low-level waste disposal facility siting and presented lessons learned that could improve site selection for centralized spent-fuel storage. Like other state efforts, Illinois’ attempt to establish a low-level waste facility was unsuccessful.

Runyon added that it is vital to involve state agencies in any siting process because they are responsible for protecting citizens and have firsthand knowledge of local conditions and infrastructure. Runyon asserted that the federal government should engage states and local governments very early in the process, conduct meetings and outreach locally, and work with organizations such as CSG Midwest.

Transporting spent fuel safely is possible, but it takes careful planning and coordination, said CSG Midwest’s Lisa Janairo.

Based on the region’s work on previous radioactive waste shipping campaigns, Janairo concluded it would take nine to 12 years to plan a national transportation program that would meet the states’ expectation of being safe, secure, and efficient while meriting public confidence.

States also expect to receive financial assistance to help defray the costs of preparing for shipments. Under current draft guidelines, federal grants would be awarded after routes had been identified and at least four years prior to the first shipment.

After public meetings conclude in 2010, the Blue Ribbon Commission will release a draft report for public comment in mid-2011. The commission’s final report is due to the U.S. secretary of energy in January 2012.

CSG’s radioactive material transportation committee is the principal activity of the Midwestern Radioactive Materials Transportation Project, which brings states in this region together to work with each other, the U.S. Department of Energy and states in other regions to plan and prepare for shipments of radioactive waste and materials. The initiative is a joint project between CSG Midwest and the DOE and was established in 1989.