2018 - 04 - 18 Position on Consolidated Interim Storage

Over 75,000 metric tons of radioactive wastes have piled up at nuclear power plants across the United States. After more than 75 years of making this lethal waste, there are still no viable solutions to the problem of how to protect the environment from the dangers it will pose for a million years. If implemented, Consolidated (or Centralized) “Interim” Storage (CIS) facilities would be sites to which irradiated high-level nuclear waste would be moved and stored temporarily. Then, at some point, it would be shipped to a currently non-existent permanent repository. These facilities would provide temporary storage of commercial irradiated waste, mostly in dry storage casks, from all over the country. Currently there are two proposed facilities, one in Texas and the other in New Mexico.

MFP OPPOSES CIS FOR THE FOLLOWING REASONS:

Transporting nuclear waste by rail, truck and barge presents unacceptable dangers along the transit route.

If CIS were to be implemented, it would involve a decades-long process of transporting nuclear waste from its current locations at reactor sites. Over 10,000 shipments would travel through 44 states and the District of Columbia. The wastes would go through major cities including Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, St. Louis, and the Los Angeles and San Diego areas. Most shipments would travel over 1,000 miles, risking the health and safety of communities along the way:

  • Each nuclear waste shipment would contain more long-lived radioactivity than was released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
  • Although the transportation casks are heavily shielded, some radiation is emitted constantly, exposing anyone nearby. The National Academy of Sciences has established that even the lowest levels of radiation have health consequences. And those consequences are more serious for a fetus or a young person than for an adult.
  • An accident or attack on a nuclear waste shipment could release large amounts of radiation, causing cancer and other health problems and costing billions of dollars in damages and cleanup.
  • The risk of accidents and attacks is increased by the massive weight of nuclear waste containers. Truck casks weigh 25 tons. A fully loaded railway cask weighs 125 tons or more – many of which would need to be transported on roads or barges to reach a rail line. Our road and rail infrastructureisn’t prepared to handle thousands of shipments like this without risking derailments, bridge collapses, and traffic accidents.
  • Transport casks, although certified by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, are not required to meet the real road, rail, and water conditions they could encounter. Casks are designed to withstand a 30 minute fire at 1475 degrees Fahrenheit, submersion in 8 feet of water, and drops onto unyielding surfaces and onto a steel spike. But fires can burn hotter and longer, waterways are much deeper, and impacts can be far greater and can occur at different angles than the design scenarios.

If CIS were to be implemented, nuclear wastes would have to be transported twice – once to the interim site, and again to a permanent repository, assuming one is eventually established.

To reduce risk, the waste should be transported only once: from the reactor site to a morally and scientifically sound system for permanent isolation.

An additional issue is the possibility that an “interim” site could become a de-facto permanent storage site if such a site is not developed. This is particularly troublesome because centralized facilities are not designed to store irradiated nuclear waste for the million years it remains radioactively dangerous.

CIS violates the principles of environmental justice.

Environmental Justice is the concept that major polluting projects should not have a disproportionate impact on minority and poor communities.

Nuclear waste dumps, toxic incinerators, atomic reactors, and other such facilities are typically located where there is inexpensive land, cheap facilities, and little organized opposition. Too often, this has been in minority and poor communities which have felt powerless to oppose corporate giants.

New Mexicans and Texans are fighting the attempted licensing of two proposed CIS facilities–Waste Control Specialists near Andrews, Texas and Eddy Lee/Holtec International east of Carlsbad, New Mexico. These sites present clear examples of environmental racism.

New Mexico and Texas do not consent to either of the proposed CIS facilities and are fighting to avoid the environmental injustice of shipment of irradiated high-level nuclear waste through their communities.

 

Interim storage of irradiated nuclear fuel could lead to reprocessing.

There is no certainty that Yucca Mountain or any other permanent repository will be established in a reasonable number of years. If “interim” storage sites become full and have nowhere to send the wastes, proposals to reinstate reprocessing may well follow. But reprocessing presents unacceptable dangers:

  • Reprocessing makes the nuclear waste problems even worse and leads to increased nuclear weapons proliferation dangers.
  • Reprocessing would increase the risk of nuclear terrorism. Less than 20 pounds of plutonium is needed to make a simple nuclear weapon. If the plutonium remains bound in large, heavy, and highly radioactive spent fuel assemblies (the current U.S. practice), it is nearly impossible to steal. In contrast, separated plutonium is not highly radioactive and is stored in a concentrated powder form.
  • Commercial-scale reprocessing facilities handle such large quantities of the concentrated elements separated out from the wastes that it has proven impossible to keep track of all the materials accurately. It is feasible that the theft of enough plutonium to build several bombs could go undetected for years.
  • No reprocessing sites have ever been cleaned up, and they are costing billions to prevent worsening conditions.

CONCLUSION:

We must stop the generation of nuclear waste as quickly as possible by phasing out all nuclear reactors. The combination of renewable sources of energy, energy efficiency, and conservation make nuclear power unnecessary in the 21st century.

RECOMMENDED SOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION:

https://www.nirs.org/

http://www.beyondnuclear.org/

https://sanonofresafety.org/

https://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear-power/nuclear-plant-security/nuclear-reprocessing#.Ws56E9Pwbow

See also San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace Positions on Yucca Mountain and on Waste Storage at Diablo Canyon.