The National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute
Nuclear Waste Newsletter Feb - March 2016
The following is a compendium of news reports over the preceding two months that may be of interest to our AG offices who are dealing with DOE sites or general nuclear waste issues. Neither the National Association of Attorneys General nor the National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute expresses a view as to the accuracy of news accounts, nor as to the position expounded by the authors of the hyperlinked articles.
DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY (DOE)
Under the Uranium Mill Tailing Remedial Action Project, DOE has to remove a total of 16 million tons of uranium mill tailings, a sand-like material that remains from processing uranium ore. The uranium tailings have been shipped to an engineered disposal cell near Crescent Junction, Utah. The first shipment was in April 2009, and in less than 7 years DOE has removed 8 million tons of uranium mill tailings from the Moab site. In addition, site employees worked 2.5 million hours without work related, lost-time injury or illness.
The DOE recently announced that Battelle, a contractor, would lead the effort to drill a test hole more than three miles below ground to see whether nuclear waste can be stored there safely. The government seeks to store defense waste, not waste from nuclear plants. Battelle and its partners are considering a location in North Dakota as the test site to drill a hole. The team joining Battelle include the University of Dakota Energy and Environmental Research Center and a Swiss company, Solexperts. The purpose of the project is to collect data in order to evaluate the safety of the concept of deep borehole disposal. Additionally, Secretary Moniz notes that the project will also be important from a scientific standpoint in order to learn about possible uses of crystalline rock formations as an option when considering nuclear waste disposal.
Continuing to move forward in response to the Blue Ribbon Commission report and recommendations on handling nuclear waste, DOE has announced that it is embarking upon a new initiative to try and find long-term solutions for dealing with spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste. The Office of Nuclear Energy will spearhead this initiative, and it received an 8 percent increase in funding for this past fiscal year. DOE efforts to come up with alternative solutions also result from the continued closure of Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), and it intends to use a consent-based approach when making determinations on siting facilities for the storage and disposal of used commercial nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. A fact sheet that lays out DOE’s proposed plan regarding nuclear waste disposal in the future may be found here.
Given DOE’s plans to promote consent-based approaches when making decisions on siting facilities that will handle the storage and disposal of used commercial fuel and high-level radioactive waste, a public comment period has been opened seeking public views until June 15, 2016. Information on providing public comments may be found here.
WASTE, POWER PLANTS, AND LABORATORY SITES
NEW MEXICO – New Mexico Environment Department
New Mexico and the U.S. Department of Energy signed settlements for $74 million concerning dozens of permit violations as a result of the radiation leak and resulting closure at WIPP. These are the largest settlements ever negotiated between a state and DOE. The settlement agreement includes terms for millions of dollars to go towards road improvements and environmental projects within the state.
MICHIGAN – Transportation of Waste on Great Lakes
Anti-nuclear groups are identifying possible truck, rail and water routes to move nuclear waste across the Great Lakes region. They have included state-specific details to DOE’s maps showing where and how barges could move across Lake Michigan. Each barge could hold up to 140 tons of waste and as many as 453 barges could travel across Lake Michigan. The groups worry about the size of possible shipments and threats to the Great Lakes, but nuclear energy advocates believe that transportation would not pose a problem because the processes used are extremely safe.
CALIFORNIA – San Onofre Nuclear
The Oceanside City Council passed an ordinance supporting federal legislation that would allow interim storage of nuclear waste at a site northeast of El Paso, Texas. Instead, opponents of the federal legislation prefer to wait until there is a permanent storage option or a better location that has been vetted and decided upon for consolidated interim storage.
MISSOURI – West Lake Landfill
Concerned about an underground fire at the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has mandated that an isolation barrier be installed to protect against the fire reaching buried nuclear waste at the site. The barrier will consist of an underground wall, and additional engineering efforts must be extended that include cooling loops. Republic Services, owner of both landfills, is expected to cover expenses associated with the installation, despite its insistence that the fire poses no risk of reaching nuclear material. The St. Louis County Health Department will be conducting a new study of residents within a 2-mile radius of the Landfill to ascertain whether an increased number of health problems exist when compared with the general population elsewhere. Specifically, the survey will focus on three major areas: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, and allergy-type symptoms. The study will not attempt to show a link between the underground landfill fire and health problems, but instead will simply look at the rate of particular health problems.
PENNSYLVANIA – Parks Township
U.S. Senator Robert Casey is seeking to increase funding for the Formerly Utilized Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP) in fiscal year 2017 by $150 million. FUSRAP cleans up sites from the atomic weapons and energy programs from the 1940s through the 1960s. The U.S. Army Corps began administering the program in 1997. Funding for the program remained between $130-140 million since 1997 until fiscal year 2011, when it dropped below $110 million. The legislative effort being put forth, in particular by U.S. Senator Robert Casey, is based upon the argument that not providing adequate funding for these sites poses a health risk to communities near these sites and neglects the federal government’s responsibility to address the lasting impact of its past nuclear activities.
WISCONSIN – Nuclear Reactors
Under current Wisconsin law, the state may not approve another nuclear power plant unless the plant would not burden ratepayers and there is a federally licensed repository for high-level nuclear waste. Nevertheless, the Wisconsin Assembly plans to consider a bill that will lift the moratorium. If legal action is taken to repeal the moratorium, it is anticipated that DOE will have more of an inclination to consider the Wisconsin River Batholith (a granite bedrock) as a site for a possible, permanent nuclear waste repository. During the 1980’s, this particular location was considered as one of the top three options for a high-level nuclear waste repository. However, lawmakers in Wisconsin have noted that the bill simply provides an opportunity for the state to look at the advancements in technology that were unavailable to the state 30 years ago.
Jeanette Manning is the Editor of Nuclear Waste News and may be reached at 202-326-6258. Nuclear Waste News is a publication of the National Association of Attorneys General. Any use and/or copies of this newsletter in whole or part must include the customary bibliographic citation. NAAG retains copyright and all other intellectual property rights in the material presented in this publication. For content submissions or to contact the editor directly, please e-mail email@example.com.