WASHINGTON — With uncertainties swirling around the proposed Nevada radioactive waste site, the nuclear industry has mounted a campaign to court communities that might be willing to host interim storage of its used fuel.
Officials with the Nuclear Energy Institute are meeting with governors, state legislators and other elected leaders, including those in states where nuclear waste has remained for years at decommissioned power plants, NEI executive Marshall Cohen said Friday.
Talks are moving forward with two or three communities, and more sites are expected to show interest, said Cohen, NEI senior director for state and local government affairs.
Cohen did not identify the communities during a presentation but said some were among the 11 sites that at one time volunteered to host a nuclear waste reprocessing plant for the government. Those were in New Mexico, Washington, Idaho, Illinois, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and South Carolina.
In the next month or so, he said, NEI will guide local leaders on a nuclear plant tour focused on showing them how utilities are keeping spent fuel stored on above-ground pads and in steel and concrete casks, similar to how an interim storage site would be configured.
“We are going to take them to interim storage, to walk around it, touch it, taste it, talk to the people who run it,” Cohen said.
After that, “if they still want to talk and get serious, then we can start looking at putting things on the table.”
Cohen spoke at a conference of the Energy Communities Alliance, local governments that interact with Department of Energy laboratories and former weapons plants.
The NEI campaign underscores the industry’s determination to show progress on removing spent fuel from reactor sites, an issue that could slow the proclaimed “renaissance” of new nuclear power plant construction.
It also reflects the industry’s shift on the much-delayed Yucca Mountain Project. Where once burial in the proposed Nevada repository was held up as the solution for thousands of tons of spent fuel piling up in reinforced containers outside reactors, now NEI advocates a broader policy that also includes advancing nuclear fuel processing and interim storage.
“What we are willing to do is put an entire industry behind the effort,” Cohen said of locating volunteers to hold onto nuclear waste until it can be moved to Yucca Mountain or to a reprocessing plant.
If NEI can recruit one or more volunteer sites, “it can be very, very helpful in the long run for the utilities to be able to answer the inevitable question, ‘What about the waste?'” Cohen said.
“We can say short term we have a path to interim storage and long term we are going to have other things happen in the country,” he said.
Energy Department leaders have discouraged talk of interim nuclear waste storage, where potential hosts are expected to run into legal, technical and political challenges like those that confronted the consortium that tried to establish a storage site on the Goshute Indian reservation in Utah.
Ward Sproat, director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, has testified to Congress that by the time a temporary storage site is located, built and opened for business, Yucca Mountain would be close to finished.
“They are much better judges of the timetable than us, but we think it makes sense to move on this,” Cohen said in response on Friday.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or (202) 783-1760.