South Carolina Ranks Near Top Of States In Storage Of Nuclear Waste

A few weeks ago we published accounts of the open hearing conducted by the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future in Augusta, Georgia.

The Commission was taking public and industry statements on the proposal to reprocess spent nuclear fuel at the Savannah River site.

Today, Matthew McKinzie of the National Resources Defense Council discusses where spent nuclear waste is located around the country.

Even without the proposal to use the Savannah River Site for reprocessing and further storage, South Carolina already stores more nuclear waste than any other state, except for Illinois and Pennsylvania.

Nuclear power plants receive new nuclear fuel once every 18 months to two years, and about one-third of the reactor core is then removed as spent fuel. This spent fuel is cooled in a storage pool next to the reactor, and either remains in the pool or is transferred to casks licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for so-called “dry” storage nearby. For the most part, then, all of the spent fuel produced by U.S. nuclear reactors hasn’t left the grounds of the nuclear power plant – in fact a large portion of it remains in the pools.  The most recent data we have on the quantities of spent fuel at the U.S. reactors is from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, from 2002, and I have mapped this up in Google Earth here. The total quantity of spent fuel stored at U.S. nuclear reactors in 2002 was 47 thousand tons. An additional 20 tons of spent fuel discharged per year from 104 reactors for 9 years totals 18.7 thousand tons, so our estimate is that the total quantity of spent nuclear fuel currently stored at U.S. reactors exceeds 60 thousand tons.

So in terms of where the spent fuel is located, Illinois tops the list, with more than ten percent of the commercial reactor spent fuel in the country. Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Michigan, and New York, Alabama and Florida come next on the list – these seven states together hold more than half of the country’s spent nuclear reactor fuel. And as you can see in Google Earth, many of these spent fuel storage sites are on the shores of the Great Lakes and major rivers like the Mississippi, and along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts – because those waters provide the reactors’ cooling.

In absurdist fashion, the new Waste Confidence Rule contains a “predictive” safety “finding” that simply stipulates spent reactor fuel can be disposed of safely at some unspecified time in the future, whenever it becomes “necessary” to dispose of it. The Rule also concludes that for at least sixty years after the cessation of reactor operations, spent fuel can be safely stored at reactor sites or in “special” facilities.

Environmental advocates like the National Resources Defense Council and Friends of the Earth want to stop the production of nuclear processing.

We aim to require the Government to include the costs and environmental risks of spent fuel disposal within the scope of the licensing review of new nuclear reactors, and weigh the relative costs and benefits of new nuclear reactors against far cheaper energy efficiency savings and new renewable electricity sources.

While it may seem that reprocessing offers an alternative to storage at scattered nuclear reactors, the proposal to use the Savannah River Site does nothing to discourage the continued operation of nuclear plants.

If the Savannah River Site were to be come a major reprocessing facility, as both Senators Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham desire, then South Carolina could become a dumping ground for waste far into the future.

Tom Clements of Friends of the Earth, and U.S. Senate candidate for the SC Green Party told The State back in February:

“We don’t want South Carolina to become the new Yucca Mountain, and we’re going to fight it,’’

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