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Published: Tuesday, 12/3/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Industry, labor, foes sound off at hearing on nuclear waste

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Rarely do nuclear industry executives and hardline activists who oppose them agree on anything.

Both sides hate the idea of continuing to stockpile highly radioactive waste from the reactor cores of nuclear power plants on the site of each power-generating station.

But an hours-long hearing Monday that drew nearly 200 people from across Ohio and Michigan to the Hilton Garden Inn in Perrysburg’s Levis Commons served as a reminder that the two sides are still far apart on what the government’s next step should be.

Industry and trade unions eventually want a single, national repository, even if it means putting up with the waste decades longer than expected. Antinuclear activists claim the government’s failure to develop a solution is reason enough to shut down the industry.

Nuclear power provides 20 percent of America’s electricity.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the government agency that oversees the nuclear industry, got an earful at the meeting, the 11th stop on the agency’s 12-city tour in which it set out to do just that: Get a cross section of opinions. The NRC has been asking Americans what they think of the agency’s proposed “waste confidence” rule and its affiliated environmental impact statement, in response to the government’s decision to abandon plans for a national repository in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.

The NRC is, in effect, asking what the public thinks about leaving the waste where it is, at least for the time being.

America has 100 nuclear plants still in operation. The U.S. government was contractually obligated to start picking up the high-level radioactive waste — spent fuel from reactor cores — from them by Jan. 31, 1998.

The plants weren’t built to hold all of the waste indoors. Most of it is stored in spent fuel pools. Once those fill up, the oldest waste is moved to dry storage casks outdoors, usually on the same site.

FirstEnergy Corp. spent more than $5 million to build that outdoor storage system for its Davis-Besse nuclear plant in the 1990s.

It hasn’t needed to expand it for several years. But FirstEnergy spokesman Jennifer Young, who attended the hearing but was not scheduled to speak, told The Blade the Akron-based utility will start making plans in 2014 for building more exterior containers and filling them with spent reactor fuel in 2017.

That utility and others are reluctant to do so, but say they have no other alternatives until the government develops a repository.

About a decade ago, the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute successfully sued the U.S. government for breach of contract, a decision upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Since then, utilities have been allowed to collect rent from the government for waste stored on corporate land.

“At this point, this form of [on-site] storing the waste is probably the best way possible,” Jim Sass, Ottawa County Commission president, told the NRC.

For more than an hour, a stream of activists followed Mr. Sass to the microphone, urging the NRC to shut down the industry.

“This is a con game,” said activist Michael Keegan of Monroe, who has been watching DTE Energy’s Fermi nuclear complex and at other sites for 33 years. “This is a fraud perpetuated on taxpayers and ratepayers. It is a sham.”

Mike Knisley of Lima, Ohio, who sits on the executive board of the Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council, said organized labor supports a resolution of the problem that allows the nuclear industry to expand and create more jobs.

“These [temporary] storage methods have been proven safe,” Mr. Knisley said.

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



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