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Published: Friday, 11/29/2013 - Updated: 9 months ago

Views sought on nuclear waste

NRC to ask public if spent fuel should remain at power plants

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Perrysburg will become the 11th stop Monday night on a 12-city tour the federal government has under way to gauge public opinion about how it should manage spent fuel from America’s commercial nuclear reactors.

The event begins with an open house at 6 p.m., followed by a 7 p.m. meeting in the Parlor D meeting room of the Hilton Garden Inn at Levis Commons.

Spent nuclear fuel has been one of the nuclear industry’s biggest impediments to growth for decades. Congress decided in the early 1980s, after years of debate, to establish a single, long-term repository. But the sole site under consideration — Nevada’s Yucca Mountain — is no longer in play.

Now, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission wants to hear from the public at large. It wants to know if average Americans believe it’s better to just leave spent fuel — the only material in civilian hands classified as high-level radioactive waste — on each of the nuclear complexes rather than move it somewhere else.

The NRC’s proposed “waste confidence” rule and its affiliated environmental impact statement, which together are the basis for the discussion, won’t authorize a long-term, decentralized plan. But the agency said it is gathering thoughts people may have about environmental ramifications of leaving the waste where it is.

America has 100 operating nuclear reactors, down four from a year ago. They include FirstEnergy Corp.’s Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Ottawa County and DTE Energy’s Fermi 2 nuclear plant in Monroe County, both about 30 miles from downtown Toledo and along the western Lake Erie shoreline. The fuel pulled from those and other nuclear reactors is stored under water for years in spent-fuel pools in buildings adjacent to the reactors. Once the pools fill, the oldest, most decayed waste is moved into outdoor dry-cask storage vaults.

The NRC published its proposed rule in the Federal Register in September. It has since gone on a 12-city tour that has taken it to cities in Maryland, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Florida, Illinois, and California. The Levis Commons meeting will be followed by one on Wednesday night in Minnetonka, Minn.

The agency also will host a public teleconference on Dec. 9, and will continue to take comments via email, online, via U.S. mail, via facsimile, and in person at its headquarters in the Washington suburb of Rockville, Md.

Details can be found at nrc.gov/​waste/​spent-fuel-storage/​wcd/​pub-involve.html on NRC’s Web site, www.nrc.gov.

The proposed rule would replace a similar provision in the NRC's environmental regulations that was vacated in 2012 by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington.

The NRC responded by putting a temporary hold on issuing license renewals that were in progress, including the 20-year extension FirstEnergy is seeking for Davis-Besse.

Chuck Castro, a retired NRC Midwest regional administrator, said at the time the move affected only the agency’s decision to issue renewals, not the review process.

Nuclear power plants operate in 31 states, generating 20 percent of America’s electricity. The industry supports hundreds of jobs in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.

While the nuclear industry now acknowledges it is up against stiff competition from natural gas — especially with natural gas prices plunging in the new era of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” of shale bedrock — the national dilemma over waste disposal also has made it more difficult for the industry to attract investors.

Groups such as the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s Washington-based lobbying arm, have been trying for years to get the waste question resolved.

According to the NEI’s latest tally, Michigan rate payers have contributed more than $567 million into a national fund to develop a waste repository since the early 1980s with little to show for it beyond Yucca Mountain geological research, while Ohio rate payers have kicked in more than $325 million. The money comes from pennies added to monthly utility bills in areas served by nuclear power.

“We support the current rule making because it is a reasonable use of NRC, licensee, and public resources: It avoids duplicative and inefficient site-specific reviews of continued used-fuel storage issues,” Ellen C. Ginsberg, the NEI’s vice president, general counsel, and secretary, said in prepared remarks at an Oct. 30 meeting in Tarrytown, N.Y.

The proposed rule stems from a 1979 lawsuit that alleged the NRC had failed to consider environmental impacts associated with long-term, on-site storage.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.



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