published Sunday, June 1st, 2014

Who needs Yucca Mountain? We have our own.

The spent fuel rod pool for the Unit 1 reactor is shown at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Athens, Ala.
The spent fuel rod pool for the Unit 1 reactor is shown at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Athens, Ala.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Imagine letting your garbage pile up day after day, year after year, decade after decade.

Imagine not having a dump to drop it in where a blanket of dirt will magically make it go away.

If your garbage is nuclear waste (and in the Tennessee Valley much of it is), you don’t have to imagine this nightmare. It’s real.

With three nuclear plants near Chattanooga, we have more than 3,590 metric tons of highly radioactive spent fuel and fuel rods on the sites of Sequoyah, Watts Bar and Browns Ferry nuclear plants. About 70 percent of it is in pool storage — which is just what it sounds like: a swimming pool-like pit of water-covered spent fuel rods. Each of our six reactors has a pool that sits in a metal roofed structure not unlike an airplane hanger. Try not to think about a monster F-5 tornado spinning by. It will make your head hurt.

The nuclear waste from the electricity you use is sitting beside the Tennessee River in Soddy-Daisy and Spring City in Tennessee and Athens, Ala. Some of it is in pools, and some of it is in casks — giant canisters that cost about $1 million each. The canisters hold waste that’s cooled for about five years or more, and in the cans the waste is said to be safe for another 100 years. The waste won’t be safe without some sort of containment for centuries more, however.

So Soddy-Daisy, Spring City and Athens are our own little localized Yucca Mountains — just nowhere near as safe, secure or secluded.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, which operates the three nuclear plants, would prefer not to be in the nuclear waste storage business. TVA has paid up to $53 million a year for more than four decades to the U.S. Department of Energy Waste Policy Act fund so the government could prepare a real Yucca Mountain-like “permanent storage” facility.

“We, like every other nuclear operator, are looking for a national solution. And we continue to wait,” said TVA spokesman Jim Hopson. In the meantime, TVA keeps the waste safe.

The fund-fee nuclear operators have paid and passed on to us electricity customers added up to about $750 million a year for decades. About $9.5 billion was withdrawn to study and begin the Yucca Mountain work, and the waste policy fund now holds about $37 billion. But there’s still no Yucca Mountain — just local nuclear trash dumps like ours — and about 100 others around the nation. One for every U.S. reactor.

The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository, as designated by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act amendments of 1987, was to be a deep repository built into a ridge line in the south-central part of Nevada near the California border. It was approved in 2002 by Congress, but with strong opposition in Nevada, funding was terminated on April 14, 2011, by Congress.

Although activists had argued for years that the site was unsafe, a U.S. Government Accountability Office report stated the closure was for political, not technical or safety reasons.

TVA sued the U.S. Department of Energy for recovery of some the money the utility had spent to buy dry storage casks and cask storage pads at Sequoyah and Browns Ferry when there was no longer pool storage capacity at those plants. The utility has received just under $120 million.

Electricity customers won’t be so lucky. The Energy Department stopped charging the fee by court order on Friday. The amount is only a small percentage of most customers’ bills, about $2 a year for a typical U.S. residential customer.

But we won’t get a refund. The latest Energy Department strategy, laid out in a report last year, is to have a site designed by 2042 and built by 2048 using the money in the fund.

Meanwhile, TVA will continue to have nowhere else to place growing amounts of nuclear waste except on site in Soddy-Daisy, Spring City and Athens.

Two years ago, TVA contracted to buy up to about 150 more dry storage casks. The casks are thought to be safer than pool storage, and especially after Fukushima. Since then, activists and industry officials called for moving waste out of the pools as soon as safety permits.

But on Wednesday, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission rejected a call to force expedited transfers. The NRC’s northeast regional administrator said the agency had concluded that both spent fuel pools and dry casks were “adequate storage processes for spent fuel, and there is not a significant safety benefit to requiring full transfer to dry cask storage.”

In short, the government has stopped work on Yucca Mountain, has no new permanent storage site proposed and isn’t going to set a policy for speedier safe plant site storage.

That pretty much makes every nuclear facility — including our plants — a nuclear waste dump.

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conservative said...

You don't have to read the scare piece, the caption is sufficient.

Run for your lives!

June 1, 2014 at 7:22 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

Con-man, your willing ignorance in the face of such wanton, reckless use of nuclear energy, as well as our other carbon-based and highly toxic and polluting energy sources, would be laughable if it weren't for the fact that you are typical of an all too large swath of Americans who are every bit as ignorant (and arrogant in their ignorance) as you. And that makes it, not laughable, but downright scary! Scary, and sad, that we have to contend with fools like you who obstruct those of us who love and respect this planet and want to make it cleaner for its own sake, and safer for the sake of all of us. It boggles my mind how so many like you feel that their God has allowed them to virtually rape this planet and do so with his blessing. Scary, and sad, indeed.

June 1, 2014 at 12:34 p.m.

Rickaroo/Gore, I am sooo scared. We should all pay for it now, every single one of us. Rape? You mean like when Bill Clinton raped Jaunita Broderick? We evil human beings raping and defiling Mother Nature.

June 1, 2014 at 1:19 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

In the early stages of our mining, development, and use of fossil fuels we didn't really know the extent of damage we were doing to the planet and to ourselves, so we can be forgiven, to some extent, for our ignorance then. But now we know all too well how devastating and toxic the use of these fuels have been and continue to be. To make our apathy towards change even worse, we have cleaner and better alternate energy sources right within our grasp but we refuse to develop and expand them, falling back instead on the toxic, planet killing fuels because it's easier to kick the can down the road than to face the immediate challenge that transitioning would entail. But the longer we procrastinate the more difficult and painful the inevitable transition will be. Either our continued use of fossil fuels will bring devastating global consequences or they will become so scarce and expensive that our economy and way of life will be irrevocably altered for the worse. Both outcomes are inevitable; it's only a matter of which one happens first.

As for nuclear energy it has always been a trade-off. We have known from the beginning how dangerous its development and use could be and how toxic the waste, but we have been willing to accept those dangers, lulling ourselves into thinking that we were minimizing the risks. But instead of becoming more vigilant and cautious regarding nuclear energy, its use and waste, we have become even more haphazard and reckless.

And people like con-man and zableed here only keep their heads buried in the sand, blind to the obvious raping of our planet, to the toxic outpouring that fills our skies, and to the nuclear waste that is piling up with no place to put it. And they proclaim flippantly, " worry? Me scared?" They laugh like the hyenas they are, not only oblivious to their ignorance but proud of it.

June 1, 2014 at 4:01 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

Con-man has said before that he doesn't bother to read my diatribes and long-winded rants. Well, maybe this post here will be terse enough and more to your liking, c-man: The Dark Ages are calling you! They miss your ignorance, blind faith, and fundamentalist religious idiocy. And you, too, zableed. You and he should have a most excellent adventure going back to the time when ignorance reigned supreme.

June 1, 2014 at 4:24 p.m.
Plato said...

Nuclear power has an extraordinary safety record in the US and around the world. The Japanese unit melt down was due to a catastrophic typhoon, not the plant itself - no typhoon, no meltdown.

However the one issue that has been a continued problem is the storage of spent fuel. As pointed out in the article, and contrary to some critics, Yucca Mountain is a well engineered and safe solution. It was put on hold due to political pressures in congress.

The existing plants can provide safe, clean and affordable power for the near term while we pursue better alternative solutions such as solar, wind, geothermal and even coal sequestration. However the fuel storage situation demands the attention of congress. Unfortunately it will take an accident and a fair number of deaths before anything gets done.

Yucca Mountain Fact Checking:

June 1, 2014 at 4:46 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

Even without regard for nuclear waste, which is problematic and dangerous enough, the further development of nuclear energy as an energy source is going to be an extremely slow and expensive process. And it will continue to need rigorous, costly safeguards, even more rigorous than the ones in place in our existing plants, because they have been deemed substandard and inefficient. The fact that we haven't had a serious nuclear accident yet is due as much to sheer luck as to planning and forethought.

In 1941 we mustered enough collective will to transform a feeble economy with no war-oriented manufacturing infrastructure in place into a war-time manufacturing powerhouse, strong enough to enable our troops to win WW2. In 1961 JFK threw down the gauntlet, issuing the challenge for us to put a manned spacecraft on the moon, and a mere 8 years later we accomplished that feat. Those were both major accomplishments that were achieved through the collective will of both parties (government)and the American people working together. With the same collective efforts we could achieve total energy independence through the development of renewable energy and its various forms in probably a mere ten years.

But of course, that is not going to happen because we are at the mercy of Big Oil and the other polluting industries who are insistent on maintaining the status quo of huge profits being derived from our continued use of fossil fuels. And those who call for the further development of nuclear energy as a supplemental energy source are only delaying the inevitable of making the transition that we all know is going to happen and needs to happen. And money spent on nuclear energy would only be diverted from where we really need to concentrate our funds and attention - to the further development of clean, safe, infinitely abundant renewable energy.

June 1, 2014 at 5:21 p.m.
conservative said...

" And now the end is near,

and so we face the final curtain,

My friend, Ms. Sohn says it's clear,

The end is so near, the end is certain..."

Sorry, Frank.

June 1, 2014 at 5:29 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

What?! A quote from the con-man that came from something other than his Bible and someone other than his God? Careful, connie, you don't want people to think you're getting secular on us!

June 1, 2014 at 5:38 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

Another thing about the storage of nuclear waste, even if we take great precautions now: it is not going away. No matter how securely we contain it or how deep we bury it, it will still be there, as deadly as ever, for future generations to have to contend with. If could be on a site, or sites, that could be of vital interest for development or use by our children or grandkids or great-grandkids. It goes without saying that we are going to have to rely on fossil fuels and our existing nuclear plants for some time to come, but eventually we are going to have to wean ourselves off oil and nuclear and all forms of energy with dangerous and deadly waste and lingering toxic after-effects. It makes no sense to even give nuclear energy a second thought for future development when we have the vast potential of safe, clean renewable energy within our very grasp.

June 1, 2014 at 6:28 p.m.
conservative said...

Don't drink the water.

Drink only bottled water.

Please buy from Walmart.

June 2, 2014 at 6:21 a.m.
timbo said...

The sky is falling...the sky is falling. Is there anything but solar and wind power that you libs like? I have an idea..turn of your air conditioner, buy a horse ( oh that's right their flatulence would pollute), a bike, turn off your refrigerators, your lights, everything that is dirty or pollutes as an example to the rest of us. Show us your resolve with some deeds. You can go right back to the stone age when the life expectancy was about 30 seconds.

That solves two problems. One, it would reduce green house gases, ozone depletion. It would also reduce hot air because liberals would be dead.

Another problem solved....I am only here to help.

June 3, 2014 at 4:01 p.m.
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