Nuke waste indecision

Through continued indecision the Obama administration is making the decision to permanently store highly radioactive nuclear waste not at one or two strategically located sites, as would make sense, but at more than 100 nuclear plant locations across the country.

As we've argued repeatedly, this is a bad policy from a security perspective and from the standpoint of assuring the long-term safe storage of the waste, which for thousands of years will remain dangerously radioactive. And lacking a real solution to the waste issue, there is little chance of developing a new generation of nuclear plants.

This week came news that Millstone Power Station in Waterford will almost certainly receive all necessary approvals to build a facility on site capable of handling the waste from its three reactors. No issues have been raised that would block approval by the Connecticut Siting Council. And we see no reason the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would stop the plan.

We cannot object because Dominion, operators of Millstone station, have no choice. Plant designers intended the deep pools at the three nuclear plants to be for temporary storage of the super-heated, highly radioactive spent fuel rods after their removal from the reactor. Transfer to container casks, so-called dry storage, is the better alternative and began on a small scale with the removal of some fuel rods from the closed Millstone 1 unit pool.

Now Dominion plans to increase on-site storage casks from 19 to 135, enough to hold all the spent nuclear fuel generated through the decommissioning of the final unit, Millstone 3, in 2045.

But we have serious doubts the waste will ever move again. Already in Connecticut, nuclear waste remains stored in casks near the Connecticut River long after the closing of the Connecticut Yankee nuclear plant.

The U.S. Department of Energy spent more than $10 billion studying and developing a national high-level nuclear waste depository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. But during 20 years of study and development the project faced constant technical, political and legal challenges. In 2010, President Barack Obama pulled the plug on the project, but he offers no alternative. It is no coincidence that the closing appeased a key political ally, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, whose opposition to Yucca Mountain has helped boost his popularity in that state.

But there have been few profiles in courage on this issue. In the last election Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney would not commit to restarting Yucca. Storage in such a stable, geologic formation remains the best scientific option, but apparently not a political one.

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