Forum participants question regulators’ commitment to safety
BOSTON — Can federal energy officials be trusted to put together an interim storage plan for nuclear waste that provides adequate protection for the population and the environment?
That question was repeatedly asked by those who attended last week’s Boston forum organized by the Department of Energy to get public input on its plan for “consent-based siting” of facilities to temporarily store the 75,000 metric tons of spent fuel from commercial nuclear reactors until a permanent repository is built.
The spent nuclear fuel is currently being stored at 100 reactor sites around the country, including 14 locations where the reactors were shut down long ago , even though the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 required its removal to a permanent repository.
“As a community that is host to this waste, you have our consent to take it,” said Benjamin Rines Jr., chairman of the selectmen in Wiscasset, Maine, where the panel approved a resolution to support the removal of 60 mammoth casks of nuclear waste from Maine Yankee, which was shut down in 1997.
In the Northeast, nuclear waste is stored at Yankee Rowe, Vermont Yankee and Maine Yankee, all closed, as well as Seabrook Nuclear Power Station in New Hampshire and Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth.
“The failure to find a site has resulted in waste piling up in places where it doesn’t belong, like a stone’s throw from Cape Cod Bay,” said Mary Lampert, director of Pilgrim Watch and one of Thursday’s panelists. Pilgrim has nearly 4,000 spent fuel rods on-site.
Panelist Marge Kilkelly, senior policy adviser to U.S. Sen. Angus King, of Maine, favored the plan for “consent-based” interim storage sites. She called communities now storing the radioactive spent fuel “unintentional hosts,” since the waste was supposed to be moved off the sites by 1998.
Panelist Jonathan Raab, a mediator, said “consent” must be defined before the process to establish the storage sites progresses.
“You would probably need a referendum where citizens can actually vote to embrace a repository in their community,” Raab said. “The vote would have to be closer to 100 percent than a simple majority.”
Diane Turco, founder and president of Cape Downwinders, was not convinced. “Do you really think the American people are going to be gullible enough to fall for this shell game?” she asked. “With what’s going on in Plymouth, there is no trust in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or the Department of Energy.”
Ed DeWitt, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, agreed with Turco. “How do you go from 60 years of inability to find sites for nuclear waste to getting a supermajority to agree to take it?”
John Kotek, acting assistant secretary for the Office of Nuclear Energy, acknowledged the lack of trust in nuclear regulators. A new agency to execute the storage plan would likely be established by Congress, he said.
Lampert suggested the establishment of a state and citizens advisory panel, real-time monitoring for radioactivity, the ability for a prospective host community to get expert scientific guidance and the assurance that parent companies would not walk away from problems, hiding behind limited liability corporations.
Kotek said not everyone was opposed to living in an area where nuclear waste was stored. “You’ve got locations around the country who would welcome this, understand the challenges, but know these things are dealt with every day.”
Andrews County, which covers 1,500 square miles in west Texas and has a population of 17,000, already has endorsed a proposal being made by Waste Control Specialists. The company recently submitted its application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a facility to store 40,000 metric tons of waste at the location, which it hopes to open in 2021.
Holtec International, meanwhile, is working on an application for a storage site in southeastern New Mexico and expects to submit its application by year’s end.
“If not this, then what?” former Massachusetts Energy Commissioner David O’Connor asked forum participants. “Most communities are living with dangerous, unorganized threats. We’ve got to find a better solution than the patchwork default we have now.”
By Christine Legere, Cape Cod Times, Posted Jun. 6, 2016 at 8:11 PM, as posted at http://www.capecodtimes.com/article/20160606/NEWS/160609636