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Vermont Panel Hears Update On Federal Nuclear Waste Storage Policies

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant
Courtesy NRC and Entergy Corp.
Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant (file)

A committee of the advisory panel monitoring the decommissioning of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant held a meeting this week to get an update on federal nuclear waste policy and the potential ramifications for the Vermont plant.

On January 11th, 2019 Entergy completed its sale of the Vernon facility to NorthStar Nuclear Decommissioning Company. The Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel created its Federal Nuclear Waste Policy Committeein December 2020 to keep track of federal spent fuel and disposal issues and create recommendations for the full panel.  At a meeting Monday U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Nuclear Energy, Office of Integrated Waste Management Program Manager Erica Bickford provided background on federal nuclear waste policy and plans.  “We have received direction from the incoming administration to resume work on consent based siting, essentially to pick up where things left off at the end of 2016 and very early 2017. And this approach this time is supported by Congress. So in Fiscal Year ’21 appropriations Congress directed the department to conduct interim storage activities consistent with the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 and to move forward under existing authority to identify a site for a federal interim storage facility. So this is significant because it’s the first in ten years that Congress has provided specific direction to DOE to move forward on a specific facility for spent nuclear fuel.”

Committee Chair Lissa Weinmann (wine-man) asked Bickford about the lack of a federal spent fuel storage site and the implications of two privately operated waste facilities in the Southwest.  “How does DOE plans for developing an interim facility square with what’s happening with those two private facilities in Texas and New Mexico?”
Bickford:  “They may move forward in parallel processes but they are completely independent. One of the reasons is there is some uncertainty on whether DOE would have any mechanism to engage with a private facility. And secondly in the Fiscal Year ’21 appropriation legislation Congress specified that the department move forward on a federal interim storage facility.”

Bickford clarified that the Department of Energy has been tasked with working on an interim storage facility and no legislation is currently authorizing use of Yucca Mountain as a permanent repository.  “We have not received direction from Congress to do anything with Yucca Mountain. And so we are not doing anything with Yucca Mountain. That said it’s still in law.  So it’s really kind of on Congress’ you know the ball’s in their court in terms of whether they want to remove it from the law, whether they want to do anything with it moving forward.”
Brattleboro resident Schuyler Gould asked about potential on-site storage of the former nuclear power plant’s spent fuel versus shipment of the material to a temporary site.  “Has DOE done a comparative analysis of the costs of moving waste, all the nuclear waste, to centralized interim storage and then again to a permanent repository as opposed to hardening the waste storage at its current sites and then moving it once to a final repository or repositories?”
Bickford: “To my knowledge the department never looked at hardening on-site storage just because that’s not something that exists in the regulatory structure and that was never the intention for the material. The intention was always to be permanently disposed of.”


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