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Waterford - Dominion's plan for a seven-fold expansion of on-site storage of spent nuclear fuel at the Millstone Power Station is on track for approval, after some limited community opposition mostly turned into resignation.
"I would love to see an alternative, but now, there is no right answer until the state or federal government decides they're going to take over care of waste storage," said First Selectman Dan Steward, who raised objections when the process began about the Millstone property becoming a long-term nuclear waste dump. "It's resignation to the fact that the federal government is lacking in a plan."
The Connecticut Siting Council is scheduled to decide May 2 on Millstone owner Dominion's application to expand its nuclear waste storage capacity to 135 dry cask storage units, enough to hold all the spent fuel created between now and the decommissioning of the newest plant, Unit 3, in 2045. There are currently 19 dry cask storage units on site.
The new units would enable Millstone to move all the spent fuel from Unit 1, now in deep water pools on site, into the dry casks. Unit 1 has been shut down since 1995.
Last week, in a straw poll vote, members of the Siting Council unanimously approved the expansion. Documents show the council supported the plan because it would not affect wetlands or sensitive habitats, is not in a flood zone and would not have adverse visual impacts, among other reasons. It said its jurisdiction was limited to non-nuclear environmental effects and that issues specific to nuclear waste itself are the purview of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
"We look forward to the final decision," Dominion spokesman Ken Holt said.
Bill Sheehan, chairman of the Nuclear Energy Advisory Council, said that while he would prefer the waste be stored elsewhere, "most folks recognize we have to do something with it." Building more dry casks and closing the Unit 1 spent fuel pool is a safer long-term storage plan and would make the eventual transport of the waste to a permanent repository easier than if it were left in pools, he said.
Construction of the $11.3 million project would begin this year, Holt said. It would involve pouring a concrete pad to accommodate 135 dry cask units, which would be added incrementally as they are needed. The work also would include excavation and relocation of a security fence, and building storm drains. The spent fuel storage area is located on the eastern side of the 50 acres occupied by the power station on the 520-acre Millstone property.
Holt noted that the company already had permission from the Siting Council to expand the concrete pad to accommodate 48 dry cask storage units. It decided to seek a permit for the larger pad after determining it would be more economical to build the entire facility at once rather than incrementally.
Tom Kelly, chairman of the board of governors of the Black Point Beach Club Association in East Lyme, said he would have preferred the waste storage site be expanded in stages, so the public would have other chances to weigh in before the entire facility is built. Kelly's group, which represents about 625 homeowners who live across Niantic Bay from Millstone, obtained intervenor status in the Siting Council proceedings.
"We all agree they have to store this someplace, but we don't understand why they couldn't do it incrementally," Kelly said. "They want the whole prize at once. Allowing approval for the whole thing - that's the end of negotiations."
Not much opposition
Kelly said Millstone, visible from downtown Niantic and his neighborhood, has had a negative effect on property values. Given the significant expansion of the waste facility, he said, "I was disappointed we weren't able to get more people involved in this." Three other members of the association attended the Siting Council proceedings, he said.
During the council hearing in January, Kelly asked Dominion representative Brian Wakeman, "Why do you have to be so aggressive, you know, why couldn't you take a less bite of the apple and come back to the council in another five years to apply for another 35 or 40?"
In response, Wakeman explained the company's reasoning that building the whole facility at once would be more economical and efficient.
At a public hearing in Waterford in December, four residents spoke against the expansion, mainly objecting about the federal government's inaction on creating a permanent repository.
During the subsequent Siting Council proceedings at its offices in New Britain, the only member of the public to raise objections other than Kelly was Nancy Burton, founder of the Connecticut Coalition Against Millstone. Burton, who was also granted intervenor status, questioned the proximity of the waste facility to the shoreline, flood maps used by Dominion, and security issues, among others.
State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Daniel Esty, in written comments to the Siting Council, called the accumulation of spent nuclear fuel at Millstone and 100 other plants nationwide "unacceptable" and "the direct result of the federal government's failure to site a national waste repository as required under federal law.
"Nuclear waste is a federal problem and needs an immediate federal solution," he said.
Esty said DEEP supports Millstone's application for the expanded dry cask units, "but this cannot be considered a long-term solution."
He noted that the Unit 1 pool is close to the shoreline and only a few feet above sea level, so moving that fuel to dry casks farther inland is safer.
"Clearly, the most prudent course is to transfer as much spent fuel at Millstone as is possible from pool storage to dry cask storage," Esty said.
A new type of nuclear fuel is replacing the type that's currently in use, meaning the fuel waste that Millstone and other plants will be loading into on-site dry cask storage units will be different, too.
“It's expected that in 10 to 15 years, what they're going to be loading is high burn-up fuel waste, and that's what they'll be storing into the future,” said Christine King, director of fuels, chemistry and high-level waste for the Electric Power Research Institute, based in Palo Alto, Calif. “When it's loaded, it will be hotter” than today's lower burn-up waste.
High burn-up fuel produces more fission products and, in turn, more electricity than the fuel it's replacing, King said.
She and other researchers at EPRI will undertake a multi-year study on the effects of the high burn-up fuel waste on dry casks. Announced this week, the $15.8 million study is being commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy. The nuclear power industry is paying 20 percent of the cost.
For the study, EPRI will design and test dry cask storage for high burn-up waste, which King said is typically held in deep water pools for 10 to 15 years before it is cool enough for dry casks. Low burn-up waste typically stays in water pools for five years before it is moved. Gauging the temperature of the high burn-up waste to determine when it is ready to be moved will be a key part of the study.
“We don't think we're going to exceed 400 degrees centigrade, but we need to confirm that we don't need any changes to the casks,” she said.
The study also will assess the cumulative effects of the new fuel on the dry casks.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission authorizes dry casks as safe for storage of spent nuclear fuel for 120 years, even though nuclear waste was intended to be stored long-term at a federal repository, not on-site at nuclear plants. There is currently no active plan for creation of a federal repository, however.
“This study is preparation for the reality that the plants have,” King said.
- Judy Benson