June 27, 2013

Nuclear Waste Bill Fails to Address Near-Term On-Site Management and Risks from Overcrowded Pools

Statement by Robert Cowin, Union of Concerned Scientists

WASHINGTON (June 27, 2013)—Today four senators introduced a bill calling for a pilot interim waste storage site for high-level nuclear waste from a dozen closed nuclear power plants, a follow-on interim facility for waste from currently operating plants, and a new oversight agency to manage the process. Over the last 50 years, this waste—the spent fuel rods from nuclear reactors—has been piling up at nuclear power plants across the country.

Below is a statement by Robert Cowin, a senior legislative representative at the Union of Concerned Scientists:

“We applaud the four senators for working across the aisle to tackle this long-standing, complex and challenging issue, but public safety must be the paramount priority. 

“It makes sense to consolidate nuclear waste from closed plants, since that can provide greater security at a lower cost. Doing so would reduce the number of potential terrorist targets and, along with it, the likelihood of an attack.

“Ultimately, however, a permanent geologic repository is the safest way to dispose of this waste, so any efforts to site and build an interim storage facility must be linked to progress on establishing a permanent repository. No interim site should become a de facto permanent repository.

“Finally, even under the rosiest scenario, it will take years to site and build interim storage facilities. That means large quantities of nuclear waste will necessarily remain at nuclear plants for a long time—and three quarters of it is currently crammed in cooling pools. This bill misses the opportunity to dramatically improve public safety by requiring plant owners to transfer this waste to dry casks, which are inherently safer and more secure. Given that plant owners eventually will have to move this waste to dry casks to ship it to an interim or permanent facility, it makes sense to do it sooner rather than later to better protect the public.”