Article published Tuesday, September 2, 2003|
Nuclear waste may go through area
By TOM HENRY
Spent nuclear fuel from the Northeast could be
moving through northern Ohio sooner than expected, possibly by
Thatís if a consortium representing FirstEnergy Corp.
and seven other utilities gets Nuclear Regulatory Commission
approval to move the highly radioactive waste to a Native American
reservation in Utah.
The consortium, Private Fuel Storage
LLC, hopes to convince the NRCís safety and atomic licensing board
this fall that a contractor has designed adequate casks for use at a
reservation owned by the Skull Valley Band of Goshute
The industry group will try to show the odds of
those casks being struck by military aircraft and subsequently
breaking apart are less than one in a million. The NRC considers
those odds inconsequential, consortium spokesman Sue Martin
The reservation is southwest of Salt Lake City, in
Tooele County near Skull Valley, Utah. The military uses Skull
Valley as a driveway to its test and training area on the other side
of a mountain range. "Itís considered military airspace. While they
donít do tests and maneuvers in Skull Valley, it is a driveway," Ms.
The licensing board expressed some concerns with
Private Fuel Storageís computation after a hearing last summer. The
upcoming hearing will give the consortium another chance to justify
its numbers, Ms. Martin said.
If the board rules in favor,
the request would go to the full NRC to review for license
consideration. The consortium has an agreement with the tribe for a
20-year lease with an option for a 20-year extension. It could have
the facility developed in 18 to 24 months, she said.
2006 is now the best-case scenario," Ms. Martin said. Terms of the
deal with the Utah tribe, including payments it would receive, have
been kept confidential, she said.
Davis-Besse is one of
several nuclear plants that were so cramped for space in the 1990s
that they moved some of the spent fuel from their indoor storage
pool into outdoor storage vaults. Before FirstEnergy Corp.ís
acquisition of Toledo Edison Co., the plantís former owner spent
more than $5 million to develop the outdoor vaults at
The nationwide space crunch stems from the
federal governmentís failure to live up to its obligation to begin
taking the waste in January, 1998. The U.S. Department of Energy
isnít expected to have its burial site, Nevadaís Yucca Mountain,
developed until 2010, and quite possibly later, given numerous
setbacks over the years.
The consortium was formed because of
concerns that the waste-disposal debate could drag on, causing many
more plants - including Detroit Edison Co.ís Fermi II nuclear plant
- to store waste outdoors.
FirstEnergy gave the consortium an
undisclosed amount of seed money to help get the effort started with
the Utah tribe in 1997 but has had little involvement since, company
spokesman Richard Wilkins said.
Mr. Wilkins said thatís
because FirstEnergy, shortly after taking over Davis-Besse, reracked
the plantís spent fuel pool in a manner to free up enough space to
store waste generated there through the end of the plantís operating
license, which expires in 2017. The utility will have to look at
other options if it succeeds in getting a 20-year license extension
from the NRC, Mr. Wilkins said.
Although the consortium is
representing eight utilities, it is essentially making a case for
the whole nuclear industry. Waste stored at the Utah site would not
be limited to the eight consortium members, Ms. Martin
"The whole concept here is that the utilities canít
absolutely count on when Yucca Mountain will take their spent fuel,"
The Utah reservation is at least the second Native
American reservation where a consortium of utilities has tried to
store spent fuel. Several years ago, a different consortium was
negotiating with the Mescalero Apaches in New Mexico, but the
proposed deal fell through. Davis-Besse was involved in those
negotiations as well.
The latest process hit another
potential snag recently when the NRCís Office of Inspector General
decided to investigate the agencyís oversight performance. The
inspector generalís office is reviewing quality assurance of the
cask fabrication in light of complaints brought to its attention by
a whistleblower, spokesman George Mulley said.
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