Illinois At The Center Of Nuclear Waste Debate

Nov 1, 2013

Credit Exelon Corporation

A U.S. Senate proposal would address the need for a permanent storage site for the nation’s nuclear waste. But an Illinois watchdog has concerns how it might affect the state in the short-term.

The Senate proposal aims to end years of gridlock by coming up with a permanent repository for the nation’s spent nuclear fuel. Among other things, the bill would establish a new, independent agency for managing the process. And while a permanent solution is worked out, interim storage sites would be created to help deal with the used fuel.

It’s that provision that has David Kraft worried. He’s with the Illinois-based Nuclear Energy Information Service. He says with Illinois having the largest amount of nuclear waste in the U.S., he fears the state would be a prime candidate for one of the temporary sites.

“In 2012, a report issued by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory puts Illinois at the top of the list for the first of one of these parking lot dumps,” Kraft said.

Kraft says that creates a number of safety concerns, including the transportation of product to a site. He says additional transportation of nuclear waste is not good when you consider the nation’s aging infrastructure.

But Derrick Freeman, who’s with the Nuclear Energy Institute, a trade group, contends that it’s a very safe process that’s used on a fairly regular basis.

Freeman also stresses there would be a major vetting process where states would have to give their consent to host one of these sites.

“If the state of Illinois doesn’t want a storage facility, it would not be considered,” Freeman said.

Freeman says so far, Illinois hasn’t given any signals that it’s willing to host one of these sites, while other states have. He reiterates these locations would mainly store spent nuclear fuel from decommissioned plants, not any operating reactors.

Exelon statement

Exelon Corporation, which operates nuclear reactors across Illinois, including the one in Byron, offered this statement when asked about the situation:

The current methods of storing the fuel at our sites are safe and technically sound. Having the DOE take the fuel, whether to a centralized interim storage facility or geologic repository, is a better solution than us storing it at each of our sites.  However, we are able to safely store it at our facilities until such time that the DOE retrieves it.