Rell to feds: Stop plan dismantling Yucca Mountain

Gov. M. Jodi Rell urged the Obama administration and the Connecticut congressional delegation this week to halt plans for dismantling operations at Yucca Mountain until a request to withdraw its license application is resolved.

Yucca Mountain, the country's proposed nuclear waste repository in Nevada, has been in the works for decades, but most recently the U.S. Department of Energy withdrew its application - a move countered by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's quasi-judicial arm, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board.

As the NRC considers the board's appeal of the withdrawal, and President Barack Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future undertakes a review of the country's alternatives for dealing with high-level radioactive waste, Rell has joined other U.S. political leaders in urging that the Yucca Mountain project not be abandoned.

Sept. 30 is the date Yucca Mountain is slated to be shut down because Obama eliminated the funding for it in the federal budget, so Rell felt a sense of urgency in asking lawmakers and Energy Secretary Stephen Chu to act when she wrote to them two weeks ago, her spokesman, Adam Liegeot, said Monday.

Rell released the letters Sunday.

"DOE determined in 2002 that Yucca Mountain was a suitable location, and even now concedes that its Yucca Mountain application is neither flawed nor the site unsafe," Rell wrote. "To now reverse developing Yucca Mountain as a permanent storage site as a matter of policy is a disservice to Connecticut ratepayers, who continue to be burdened by DOE's delay in proceeding with its license application."

The country's electric ratepayers continue to pay fees that go toward the development of a permanent repository for spent fuel, which is used up in the fission process at the nation's 104 nuclear power plants. By federal law, a repository was supposed to be available to move the spent fuel from reactor spent fuel pools and dry cask storage sites by 1998.

In Connecticut alone, fees total $8 million a year, Liegeot said.

The decommissioned Connecticut Yankee reactor site in Haddam Neck continues to house spent fuel, while Dominion's Millstone Power Station in Waterford has spent fuel in two operating reactor spent fuel pools, the pool for the closed Unit 1 reactor, and in dry cask storage, which was first loaded with fuel in 2005.

Reached by phone Monday, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said he agrees with the governor on this issue and had already called for the steps she urges.

"Part of the problem with this issue in terms of getting critical mass is, it's 'out of sight, out of mind,' if it's not in your district," Courtney said. "The governor's pushing this out because it really is a state issue."

Dominion spokesman Ken Holt said Dominion favors a single, central, national repository and the possibility of studying technologies for reprocessing of high-level radioactive waste, which is done in other countries but not in the U.S. because of the fear of the material falling into the hands of terrorists.

"We agree with the governor that the federal government has an obligation to the American public to accept high-level commercial nuclear waste permanently," Holt said.

The Millstone Unit 2 and Unit 3 reactors have been relicensed through 2035 and 2045, respectively.

The dry storage casks are licensed for 20 years, and can be renewed for an additional 40 years, said Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the NRC.

p.daddona@theday.com

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