Site fight

Tuesday’s decision against Nevada by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit came just as there was more and more discussion of leaving waste on-site at power plants instead of shipping it to Yucca Mountain.

The court ruling said that some of Nevada’s technical objections to the Yucca Mountain project were premature and that others failed on the merits.

A few days earlier, essayist William Tucker wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Even as Yucca submerges slowly beneath a raft of environmental impact statements, alternatives are emerging. Some utilities are using ‘dry cask storage,’ simple upright concrete containers surrounded by a barbed-wire fence.” He quoted MIT Yucca expert Allison Macfarlane saying “Dry storage is safe on the order of 50 to 100 years.” Tucker suggested that other technology will have emerged to solve the problem by then.

But in Pennsylvania, the Harrisburg Patriot News editorialized against on-site storage. Harrisburg is near both the Peach Bottom and the notorious and shuttered Three Mile Island nuclear power plants.

“If Yucca Mountain isn’t suitable for storing nuclear waste, then no place on Earth likely is,” the Patriot News argued. “Certainly, an island in the middle of the Susquehanna River, such as Three Mile Island, is the last place one would want to store such wastes on an indefinite basis.”

In New Jersey, the Bridgeton News reported that on-site storage is routine but that more storage space will be needed.

“There have been no leaks of radioactive material from any dry cask storage systems loaded to date,” Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesperson Diane Screnci told the News.

One activist who is working to shut down Jersey nuclear power plants says it was shortsighted not to have built larger on-site storage facilities. “They could have built pools to hold 60 years of waste,” said Norm Cohen of UnPlug Salem Project, which is trying to decommission Salem power plant units.