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    Thursday, June 20, 2024

    Process to re-site nuclear waste gets new round of funding

    The decades-long federal process of relocating nuclear waste moved forward in late September.

    The U.S. Department of Energy made available $16 million for eight communities — which have yet to be chosen — to seek community engagement, identify public goals and generally learn more about the reality of housing spent nuclear fuel locally.

    In addition to spent fuel pools, Millstone Nuclear Power Station in Waterford has dry storage in metal canisters encased in concrete, which can be stored for decades. Federal efforts to find a national repository are underway, with $20 million allocated in the federal budget both last year and this year for a Request for Information process where the federal government seeks localities that would welcome such a repository.

    About 200 communities expressed interest in building nuclear power in the community, but Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said during her visit to Millstone in May, a much smaller percentage of these communities expressed a willingness for further conversation about storing the nuclear waste.

    Nevertheless, the narrowing down to eight communities who would more seriously consider siting spent nuclear fuel within their borders is progress, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney said. He said there is political will to see this consent-based siting process through.

    The funding would be spent during a two-year period to get a better grasp on “the geology of the area, where they’re located, the population proximity is appropriate, whether there’s community willingness to take this on,” Courtney said.

    In Connecticut, Millstone is the only active nuclear power plant. But there is still nuclear material left behind in Haddam from after the Connecticut Yankee plant was dismantled.

    State Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, has Haddam as one of the towns in his district. He is chair of the General Assembly’s Energy and Technology Committee.

    “I’m very excited that there is a serious attempt at finding a location for spent nuclear fuel,” Needleman said. “The commitment on the part of the federal government to find a solution for this decades long problem is necessary so consideration of nuclear power in the future becomes a reality.”

    “I’m a firm believer in getting rid of it,” Waterford First Selectman Rob Brule, a Republican, said of the spent fuel at Millstone. “When we took this on, the government said, ‘If you build this nuclear power plant we’ll do everything we can to store the waste, safely, off site, not in your neighborhood.’ We’ve done the best we can. We’ve been a good partner. Now we’re looking for the government to live up to their end of the bargain.”

    Brule was quick to say that he is confident in Millstone’s ability to continue storing the waste.

    “They’re capable of storing the spent fuel for an extended amount of time. They showed us that. I know how safe that plant is, and Waterford couldn’t ask for a better partner,” he said. “If all of these spent fuel rods were offsite, it would provide everybody a sense of relief. But I don’t want to get everyone up and worried.”

    Dominion Energy spokesperson Weezie Nuara issued a statement about the re-siting process on Friday.

    “Dominion Energy is supportive of the federal government’s efforts to develop consent-based interim storage solutions for spent nuclear fuel. This is a positive step forward in establishing near-term, consolidated storage of spent nuclear fuel until a permanent repository is built,” Nuara wrote in an email. “Dominion Energy is equipped to safely and securely store spent nuclear fuel onsite at Millstone through the life of the station; however, we support a federal consent-based approach that will allow spent fuel to be shipped offsite to an interim storage location.”

    The Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments sent a letter to the Department of Energy earlier this year in support of Brule.

    “The Town of Waterford has hosted the Millstone Nuclear Power Station for more than 50 years, and as such has been the location of what was originally intended to be the short-term storage of spent nuclear fuel,” the Council wrote. “The use of a consent-based siting process to establish interim storage sites, and hopefully an eventual final disposal site, will allow the relocation of spent nuclear fuel from reactor sites like Millstone…The use of such a process will also allow for a well-planned and considered system of interim sites…and…serious consideration of social equity and environmental justice issues has been made.”

    The federal government had committed to take possession of nuclear waste from facilities like Millstone but later reneged.

    The deal when nuclear reactors were built across the country was that the fuel rods, when their energy was spent, would be temporarily stored in storage pools within the plants. In time they would be placed in canisters and transferred to Yucca Mountain in Nevada, on which the Department of Energy has spent $7.5 billion, collected from electric ratepayers, to build a safe depository deep within the mountain. Highly radioactive waste and spent fuel from the production of nuclear weapons is stored there, but it has never opened for nuclear energy-produced waste as intended

    Courtney said this approach “is different from Yucca Mountain where basically the government descended on Nevada with the decision.” He added that if nuclear power is to be relied upon as a source of clean energy, safe and consenting storage of nuclear waste is necessary.

    s.spinella@theday.com

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