Waterford - Millstone Power Station officials fielded more than an hour of questions Wednesday about the design, inspection routines, radioactivity levels and technical aspects of the dry cask storage system for nuclear waste at Millstone, as well as big-picture queries and comments about the nation's nuclear waste policies.
About 50 people attended the meeting at Waterford Town Hall, hosted by the towns of Waterford and East Lyme to hear from the public about Millstone owner Dominion's plans to seek permits to expand its on-site storage capacity for nuclear waste. Millstone currently has 19 dry cask storage units on-site for spent nuclear fuel and has permission to expand its capacity to 40 units.
In June, however, it announced plans to seek permission from the Connecticut Siting Council to build 135 units, enough to handle all the spent nuclear waste from all three units at the site until the newest, Unit 3, is decommissioned in 2045.
There are currently about 1,638 metric tons of spent fuel stored in dry casks and in spent fuel pools at the 520-acre Millstone property.
The company could submit the application to the Siting Council as soon as Aug. 27. The Siting Council would conduct public hearings on the application before rendering a decision. The company hopes to begin construction in 2013 and begin moving spent fuel into the new units by 2015.
Bill Sheehan, chairman of the Nuclear Energy Advisory Council, a group that represents the public, asked five questions to begin the session, including whether the steel cylinders that hold the spent fuel rods could be moved out of the concrete casks to a federal repository for nuclear waste, if and when one is established. Brian Wakeman, lead engineer for dry storage for Dominion, explained that the cylinders are designed so they could be transported off-site.
Ed Saller, who said he lives near the power station, asked several questions, including about how the casks are inspected and whether nuclear waste from other power plants could be brought to the Waterford site.
Wakeman said small, remotely operated vehicles can be used to inspect the casks, and that the permit will be specific to waste from the Millstone plants.
"There will be no waste coming from off-site," Wakeman said.
One woman, who declined to give her name, said communities that agreed to host nuclear power plants did so with the understanding that there would one day be a federal repository for the waste. A proposal to establish one at Yucca Mountain in Nevada was scrapped in 2009, and there is as yet no replacement plan in the works.
"Are we going to become a dumping ground, or where is this going?" she asked.
"Your guess is as good as ours right now," replied Kevin Hennessy, Dominion's director of government affairs for the Northeast. "We have to believe the federal government will take care of this."
"We do?" responded several people.
Wakeman added: "You are no more frustrated than we are about this."
Ellen Gottfried of Waterford also expressed concern that the nuclear waste problem has not been solved.
"In light of this storage problem in this country, and in the world, are they building more nuclear power plants?" she asked.
"Yes," responded several Dominion officials.
"Too bad," she said.
Sal Mangiagli, who said he lives within a mile of the site of the former Connecticut Yankee plant in Haddam, asked about the radioactivity levels of the spent fuel in the casks. About 412 metric tons of spent fuel are stored in dry casks at the Connecticut Yankee site.
"They're immensely radioactive, these fuel assemblies," he said.
"Yes, they are," responded Wakeman.
Mangiagli added that while he is opposed to nuclear power, he believes dry cask storage is safer than storing the spent fuel in deep pools of water. He urged the company to speed up the transfer of spent fuel from the Unit 1 reactor out of the spent fuel pools into dry cask storage.