No Maine Yankee spent fuel removal plans in sight; security matters reported

Wed, 10/16/2019 - 8:30am

Maine Yankee Community Advisory Panel held its 22nd annual meeting Tuesday. While Congress and the Department of Energy have tried to ease the financial burden on Wiscasset and other places with nuclear reactors that have been shut down, when and where the spent fuel will go remains unknown.

Also according to information provided at the meeting, at the former Maine Yankee site in the last year, lighting was improved, and engineering for fiber optic upgrades to the security cameras was complete; installation was planned for 2020, according to J. Stanley Brown of Maine Yankee Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI). Brown said there was a “license” event, requiring reporting to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, after a contracted technician followed a staff member through a key-carded door into a secure facility without authorization. The event was recognized immediately and the contractor removed. In December, three incidents of security team members failing to follow weapons handling procedures also occurred. This was also reported to the NRC.

The Phase IV Department of Energy litigation filed in May 2017 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims addressed damages from the federal government’s failure to honor its contract obligations for the 2013-2016 timeframe, according to Maine Yankee Director of Public and Government Affairs Eric Howes. Maine Yankee, Connecticut Yankee and Yankee Atomic won $103.2 million in undisputed damages and another $500,000 in disputed ones. Maine Yankee received about $34.6 million. The Phase V litigation will commence shortly, covering 2017- 2019.

The president’s 2020 budget included $116 million to support the Yucca Mountain, Nevada, permanent nuclear repository.

According to Howes, Congress is working through several bills that would allow a consolidated interim storage (CIS) facility. The House passed a 2020 funding bill for Energy and Water Development that included $47.5 million for integrated waste management storage for CIS facilities. Texas and New Mexico were interested in hosting an interim storage facility. The Senate’s EWD Committee also voted for funds for CIS facilities, and authorized the Secretary of Energy to create a pilot program for interim storage on sites without working nuclear reactors. Neither the House nor Senate bill had funding for Yucca Mountain, the geologic repository for high level nuclear waste. That repository is is already federal law.  The bills may be reconciled in conference committee.

A bipartisan bill, the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2019, was introduced April 30 to implement several recommendations of the 2012 Blue Ribbon Commission report, including a pilot CIS facility through consent-based siting. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) has asked, “What if every state said no?” Another bill, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2019, tied the pilot CIS site to a final decision on Yucca Mountain. The bill is still moving through Congress, but would tie the moving of spent nuclear fuel to approving Yucca Mountain; Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made it clear she would stand with the united Nevada delegation, and it opposes Yucca Mountain, according to Howes.

Even if tied to Yucca Mountain approval was not part of the deal, the interim sites are in jeopardy. Since the application processes began, in New Mexico, the new governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, opposes an interim site, and in Texas, several intervenors have been granted standing by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, including those who hold that Congressional legislation would prevent the DOE from taking ownership of the spent fuel before a permanent repository became operational. Both applications have been pushed back to at least 2021.

Some of the bills presented this year would pay communities where spent fuel is stored. One bill, the Sensible, Timely Relief for America’s Nuclear Districts’ Economic Development (STRANDED) Act, introduced in July by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and co-sponsored by King, would have communities be eligible for $15 per kilogram of spent nuclear waste, Howes said. Here, that would translate to about $8 million. 

The facility is undergoing a re-licensing process before the casks’ 2020 expiration date. The coupons inside the casks have been removed and sent to Sandia National Labs to be tested, Brown said.