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Proposed NRC rule includes scenario for “indefinite” storage
By Jim Shilander
Anti-nuclear activists attacked a new proposal for on-site storage rules of nuclear waste Monday at a Nuclear Regulatory Commission meeting in Carlsbad.
The agency provided findings of a court-mandated review of nuclear waste confidence rules to about 100 attendees Monday.
Included in the NRC’s review is research into whether on-site storage facilities at nuclear power plants throughout the country, including the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, have the ability to safely house nuclear waste.
The report looked at short-term storage options, of 60 years beyond the licensed life of a nuclear reactor, first in spent-fuel cooling pools and then in dry-cask storage. It also addressed long-term storage, of an additional 100, as well as housing waste at shuttered plants permanently.
The indefinite storage consideration comes in light of the federal government not having a central repository for such waste. According to the report, in all three scenarios, continued storage of nuclear waste is expected to have “small” impacts on areas surrounding the nuclear sites.
In June, Southern California Edison announced in it would retire the San Onofre plant, south of San Clemente, permanently. The plant had been out of operation since January 2012 after tubes in one of its two active reactors ruptured due to wear. The utility tried to restart one of its reactors at a lower power, but delays in the process led to the closure decision.
Paul Michalak, the head of the NRC’s waste management and environmental protection division, said the federal regulatory agency tried to examine all possibilities.
“We’ve evaluated three different time frames. 60 years beyond the life of the reactor, 160 years and then we’ve looked at indefinite storage,” Michalak said. “The pools only exist in the 60-year time frame. We assume, after those 60 years, that the pools have been emptied and decommissioned, and the fuel is placed in dry casks.”
At the meeting, NRC officials announced they would complete work on a safety evaluation report on the Department of Energy’s proposal for a nuclear waste repository in Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The project had previously been considered unfeasible.
Anti-nuclear activists, who also gathered for a press conference before the event, said the generic nature of the report was a major problem.
“This is totally unacceptable,” Donna Gilmore of San Onofre Safety said. “This is just a bunch of BS as far as I’m concerned.”
Gilmore and other activists primarily targeted the storage of high burnup fuel used at SONGS. The fuel, which is kept in reactors for a longer period, is typically hotter when removed and requires longer periods of time to cool. Others noted special circumstances facing the storage of nuclear fuel in Southern California, including earthquake and tsunami concerns. Rather than a generic plan to apply to everyone, local advocates pushed that site-specific plans be incorporated.
Gary Headrick, president of San Clemente Green, said in his mind, “There are legitimate concerns about the ways this waste has been handled.”
“It’s not safe to store and not safe to transport,” he said. “We’re all really a little bit underqualified and searching for answers. The system is not working the way it should.”
Members of the public can still weigh in on the discussion. Public comments can be submitted online at www.regulations.gov using docket number NRC–2012–0246 until Friday, December 20.