BDN’s Editorial Board operates independently of the newsroom and does not set policies or contribute reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Nuclear waste has no place in Wiscasset. Or in over 100 other American communities. Yet these communities store tons of nuclear waste because the federal government has not developed a disposal site.
It also costs US taxpayers $ 2 million per day to store this waste. And this waste poses a growing threat to residents of Maine far beyond the coastal city of Wiscasset, as climate change results in rising sea levels and increased potential for flooding.
In Wiscasset, home to the missing Maine Yankee nuclear power plant, 1,400 rods of spent nuclear fuel are stored in 60 cement and steel containers, guarded by armed guards. Four irradiated steel cartridges that were removed from the nuclear reactor when it was dismantled are also stored behind chain-link fences at the 11-acre site a few miles from downtown.
The storage was supposed to be temporary, but the waste has been in Wiscasset for 16 years because there is nowhere to go.
Sadly, Congress and the Biden administration – like those before them – do not seem in a rush to resolve this issue.
âWhat worries me is that there isn’t really any national leadership right now on this stuff. There is no agency that has a mission and has developed a strategy, has goals and is ready to act, âDon Hudson, chair of the Maine Yankee Community Advisory Panel, told BDN.
This must change.
Senator Susan Collins helped secure $ 15 million in federal funding to help cities with decommissioned nuclear power plants across the country pursue economic development projects. She also introduced a bill, along with Senator Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois, that would create a grant program to accelerate job creation in those cities.
Senator Angus King, who supports the legislation with Representative Chellie Pingree, urged US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm to take action to find a permanent storage site.
“I support the creation of a permanent storage site for used nuclear fuel to help communities like Wiscasset who are unfairly burdened by storage,” Collins said in a statement to the BDN. âIn the government’s latest funding bill, I supported a provision directing the Secretary of Energy to consolidate the storage of used nuclear fuel.
With bills like Collins’ pending in Congress, the Biden administration is seeking communities to voluntarily become a storage site, an effort that has not been successful in the past.
Instead, private companies apply for licenses from the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to serve as temporary consolidated storage facilities. This is an improvement over the distribution of waste across the country, but it is not a long term solution.
Between 1959 and 2016, there were a total of 119 factories in operation, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Fifty-five are still in service today.
Maine Yankee, which was Maine’s largest source of electricity, closed in 1995 after cracks were found in the tubes of the plant’s steam generators. It was decommissioned in 2005, the waste being placed in storage drums.
In 1982, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act required the US Department of Energy to create a permanent underground facility for the disposal of nuclear waste. In 1987, Yucca Mountain in Nevada was named the only site for such a repository. The government was supposed to start accepting nuclear waste in 1998.
The remote desert land was already owned by the federal government and was adjacent to the Nevada test site, where officials tested nuclear devices for 40 years.
The government invested $ 15 billion in the creation of a repository deep under the mountain. But, in the face of strong opposition from Nevada residents, environmentalists and elected officials, including then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, the effort to build the benchmark has stalled.
Work to find another storage site has failed. Meanwhile, Congress did not approve funding for Yucca Mountain, which then-President Donald Trump had requested.
Maine Yankee and two other shutdown nuclear power plants have won numerous court battles – and nearly $ 600 million in damages, paid for with U.S. taxpayer money – for the lack of long-term storage of their waste. An additional dispute is pending.
Meanwhile, the waste remains in Wiscasset.
“What to do?” said Hudson. âEvery year we convene the community advisory committee and we agree to write another letter to the congressional delegation and wave our hands in the air. ” We are here ! We want someone to do what they’re supposed to do and take responsibility for that fuel.
Asking the federal government to fulfill its obligation to safely store the country’s nuclear waste is not an unreasonable thing to ask, as court rulings confirm.
The Biden administration must rise to the task, before there is an accident and before millions more taxpayer dollars are wasted.