Rental Needed. Term: 300,000 Years

Nuclear fuel dry cask storage facility at Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan on Monday, May 20, 2019. Indian Point

These casks are used to store spent fuel rods at Indian Point. (Photo by John Meore/The Journal News)

Feds search for home for Indian Point fuel

By 2024, a Florida company is scheduled to have finished moving radioactive fuel rods from the shuttered Indian Point nuclear plant south of the Highlands to 125 concrete-and-steel casks stored outside. 

The long-term plan is to move the casks to a permanent storage facility somewhere other than the Hudson Valley. But a representative of the U.S. Department of Energy said at a Dec. 7 meeting of the Indian Point Decommissioning Task Force that the agency expects the casks to remain where they are into the 2030s.

Indian Point is not unique in this. More than 70 nuclear plants across the country store their spent fuel on-site because the U.S. government has not made good on a 1998 promise to build a storage facility. Its first attempt, at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, ran into legal, operational and cultural challenges, at the cost of $9 billion in settlements to the owners of nuclear plants with stranded fuel. 

To avoid further judgments, the government is searching for communities willing to take the fuel temporarily, meaning the sites would not have to be as robust as permanent ones that need to keep the fuel rods isolated for at least 300,000 years. Erica Bickford, the Energy Department representative, referred to the process as “consent-based siting.”

Even if interim sites are identified, the operation to move the waste from dozens of nuclear plants would be unprecedented. It’s expected they would be modeled after U.S. Navy procedures to transport spent fuel from nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers.

The Florida firm, Holtec International, is awaiting approval to build its own interim storage site in New Mexico, although Bickford said that a privately owned facility would be “a highly unusual circumstance.”

Sandy Galef, a member of the state Assembly who sits on the decommissioning task force, and whose district includes Philipstown, said at the Dec. 7 meeting that she had an idea why Holtec wants to take on the burden of storage. 

“Do you have a financial interest in that place?” she asked Rich Burroni, a Holtec representative, referring to the proposed facility in New Mexico. 

“Absolutely,” said Burroni.

“So you would prefer to have it go there, instead of a Department of Energy-type place that would be a public place,” she said. “You’d lose money on that deal.”

“Absolutely,” said Burroni.

“So we have to watch you, I guess, for 10 years,” said Galef.

This past summer, state and federal officials visited Indian Point to explore routes that the casks might take out of the Hudson Valley. The transport would be done by railcar, but the fuel still would need to get from the plant to the tracks.

One possible route would move the casks by truck to Newtown, Connecticut, where they would be loaded on cars on the Housatonic Railroad, which is being used to ship low-level radioactive waste to Texas. 

However, that route would be the longest, at 57 miles. Shorter routes present their own challenges. Three options (Hopewell Junction, Peekskill and Croton) would require transporting the fuel along Metro-North lines. Another option would be to move the fuel through Beacon and over the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge to reach the CSX Railroad on the Newburgh waterfront. Alternatively, the waste also could be transported on the Hudson River by barge to waiting railcars. 

The next meeting of the Indian Point Task Force is scheduled for Feb. 2 and will focus on the options for the disposal of the radioactive wastewater in the spent fuel pools. Galef will no longer be on the committee; she will retire next week after 30 years in the Legislature.

3 thoughts on “Rental Needed. Term: 300,000 Years

  1. “Consent-based siting” is a concept introduced by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s hand-picked blue-ribbon panel to ensure that no site (such as Nye County in Nevada) is ever going to make it through as a “volunteer” willing to take it.

    With consent-based siting, any government entity — city, county, state, tribal — can veto any other volunteering entity. That built-in, “success-proof” mentality has destroyed any possibility of a solution to the end-of-fuel-cycle aspect, destroyed the nuclear energy industry business model and doomed the utilities and ratepayers to eternal custodianship.

    You can shell-game it up and down the Hudson River, but that fuel isn’t going away without the political resolve to make a permanent, deep-geologic repository succeed. In the meantime, remember that above-ground casks make terrific targets for 9/11-style attacks.

    Before he retired in 2012, Graser worked for the Department of Energy’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel.

  2. Beyond the distasteful ethics of dumping Indian Point’s nuclear waste on a low-income minority community elsewhere in the U.S. that is already overloaded with pollution, there is the folly of moving tens of thousands of canisters containing massive quantities of highly radioactive material over thousands of miles. What could go wrong?

  3. Closing a nuclear power plant requires a lot of attention to details. In the case of Indian Point, this responsibility rests with the New York State Decommissioning Oversight Board. Composed of representatives from many different state agencies, the DOB considers what the owner of the reactors (Holtec) may do in regard to public health and safety. The federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission also have a role to play.

    The DOB’s next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 2 at 6 p.m. at Cortlandt Town Hall, 1 Heady Street. It is possible to attend virtually.

    Disposal of the tritiated water from the fuel pools is on the agenda. Tritium is a radioactive isotope. Currently Holtec plans to release it into the Hudson River. Our group, United 4 Clean Energy, opposes this plan and instead recommends storage on site as a better alternative that will not add to the cumulative burden of pollution to the river, even if technically allowed under NRC regulations.

    There are questions that need to be answered about tritium disposal. On Jan. 26, we will present a panel of experts discussing the health impacts of radioactive waste to address these questions. A second public forum will be presented on Feb. 16 on best practices for decommissioning. Contact Ellen Weininger of Grassroots Environmental Education at 914-422-3141 for more information.

    At the last meeting of the DOB, Holtec’s plan to ship high level radioactive waste to New Mexico was on the agenda. NRC representatives were there to say that this plan met their specifications. Slides were shown that outlined visits to our neighborhood that have already been made by Holtec. The company has scouted locations that could be used to ship high-level radioactive waste by truck or barge from Indian Point and sent on its way by train to property owned by Holtec in New Mexico.

    This is called Consolidated Interim Storage. Highly radioactive fuel rods in steel canisters inside giant concrete casks would be shipped hundreds of miles on regular roads and train routes to be deposited there, supervised by Holtec for an unknown number of years. Holtec representative Rich Burroni was candid in stating that this would be a profitable arrangement for his company.

    Centralized Interim Storage would mean moving the casks twice, with very little indication of how they might have fared during their wait for permanent storage. There is no plan for what might happen if a cask were somehow damaged or had deteriorated and the dangers that might create along the way or what might happen if the company went out of business. This is a faulty and dangerous plan.

    New Mexico is opposed to high-level radioactive waste being dumped in the state. The governor has written President Biden telling him so. There is an active contingent of citizens intent on stopping Holtec’s plan, which is unlawful under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. This act states that no Centralized Interim Storage can be established until a site is found for a geological depository.

    Forcing highly radioactive waste on a community against their will, as is the case in New Mexico, is undemocratic in the extreme. It raises charges of environmental justice since it is one more example of a corporation taking advantage of a disadvantaged community. The people of Nevada were faced with a similar situation and after years of opposition finally defeated the proposed plan for a Yucca Mountain depository in their state.

    Like those in Nevada, people in New Mexico have mobilized to stop Holtec from carrying through with this scheme. It will undoubtedly go to court with all the delays associated with the legal process. Given the opposition, the time frame of 10 years laid out by Holtec for moving the fuel rods off site from Indian Point is improbable at best.

    Transporting the fuel rods once is a bad idea, transporting them twice is horrendous. There is no good solution to the problem of storing high-level radioactive waste. We are stuck with the least bad alternative, which means leaving it in place near the reactor where it was generated and carefully monitoring it. High-level radioactive waste from reactors all over the country is stored on site or near the reactor where it was produced for this reason.

    What does this mean for our neighbors in Buchanan who would like to see it gone from their community? What does it mean to the redevelopment of the property?

    A strong case can be made that those who enjoyed the benefits of the electricity generated at Indian Point, including a significant reduction in property tax over the last 40 years, now have an obligation to take care of the waste that has been left behind. The property is still taxable, as are the fuel rods. Money from state sources has been made available to help with the transition for the community and former employees; some of whom have retired or moved on to jobs in other power plants, some staying on to work on decommissioning.

    Those living in the former reactor village of Buchanan may feel that this is not what they bargained for. However, it is the inevitable consequence of the nuclear generation of electricity. Buying into statements by the company that it could make the high-level radioactive waste go away when there clearly was no place for it to go has always been magical thinking and a stark refusal to look at the reality of the situation.

    Indian Point occupies a large site on the Hudson River that has the potential for many different uses, once it is certified as a green field. Can that happen if a small part is reserved for the storage and supervision of high-level radioactive waste? That is a question that needs to be explored.