Sorrell, attorney generals from New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts petition Nuclear Regulatory Commission

The dry cask storage units outside of the Vermont Yankee plant. Photo by Laura Frohn,

The dry cask storage units outside of the Vermont Yankee plant. Photo by Laura Frohn,

Vermont and three other states have petitioned the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to re-evaluate the environmental impacts of long-term storage of spent radioactive fuel on nuclear plant sites.

Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell and the Department of Public Service joined attorney generals from New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut in a petition requesting that the NRC reconsider its decision to continue to allow storage of spent fuel rods in on-site pools instead of dry cask storage.

The petition also asks the commission to re-evaluate the ongoing production of spent fuel rods when the federal government has no permanent repository for the waste.

The attorneys general accuse the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of illegally limiting the options for long-term storage of radioactive waste, and in so doing, fails to evaluate the environmental impacts of allowing nuclear companies to continue to use spent fuel pools. The NRC is responsible for ensuring the safety of the nation’s 104 nuclear power plants.

“Federal law requires that the NRC analyze the environmental dangers of storing spent nuclear fuel at reactors that were not designed for long-term storage,” Sorrell said in a statement.

Vermont Yankee, the state’s sole nuclear power plant in Vernon, has 1,507 fuel rod assemblies submerged in a watery spent fuel pool, which was originally designed to hold about 350.

The pool has five full reactor cores worth of radioactive material, according to Ray Shadis of the New England Coalition, an anti-nuclear group. Dry cask storage containers are hundreds of times safer than the spent fuel pool, Shadis said. At this point, the site has 13 loaded casks, four of which were filled last year. Each cask, which can hold 72 assemblies, costs $1 million.

A recent NRC ruling known as the “Staff Scoping Decision” allows Entergy Corp., which owns the plant, to keep spent fuel in pools on site indefinitely.

That decision, the attorneys general argue, flouts a recent court decision that requires the NRC to address the environmental impact of on-site storage of nuclear waste.

Last year the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., threw out the so-called “waste confidence rule.” The court found that the NRC did not adequately analyze environmental effects when it determined that spent nuclear fuel can be stored on site for 60 years after a plant’s license expires. The court also found the agency failed to address the future effect of not establishing a spent nuclear fuel repository when it said a geologic repository for that radioactive waste would be available “when necessary.”

Vermont was a party in the lawsuit with the New York, Connecticut and New Jersey.

At the time, Sorrell said the decision underscored the federal government’s lack of planning for a comprehensive solution to the waste created by nuclear power plants.

“The court questions whether it is reasonable for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to be issuing new licenses or relicensing plants given the federal government has dropped the ball on the storage of spent nuclear fuel,” Sorrell said.

The U.S. Department of Energy recently withdrew its application for a repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, a plan that had been in the works for 20 years. The court said that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission needs to do an environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act of the temporary storage of spent nuclear fuel in light of the fact that there is no national plan.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 5:45 a.m. May 24.

Anne Galloway

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  • Mike Kerin

    Isn’t the NRC supposed to keep the nuclear industry operating safely? Seems to me, they ought to start doing the job instead of pandering to the industry!

    Good for the attorneys general.

  • timothy price

    “The court questions whether it is reasonable for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to be issuing new licenses or relicensing plants given the federal government has dropped the ball on the storage of spent nuclear fuel,”

    This made me cry laughing…. What has happened is that the people’s respect for government’s agencies has turned to contempt. The court needs to grow a pair and tell this corporate controlled government that the people no longer care much for it and to restore a Constitutional government for the people. Thank you AGs for noticing. We hope that it isn’t really too late; will there be consequences from the grossly irresponsible nuclear policy with resulting Fukushima-dwarfing destruction? Closing the plants and removing the spent fuel are the most urgent needs.

  • Jim Barrett

    This is just another act by the Governor in Vermont to add more costs and harassment to VTY. The anti nuclear gang has used every trick in the book to add insult to injury at VTY. The safety of VTY is the total responsibility of the NRC and not some left wing, anti nuclear group.

  • Alex Barnham

    It seems to me that the Governor of Vermont must have a lot of power to persuade Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell and the Department of Public Service” to join Attorneys General from New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Last I knew, the Attorney General of Connecticut, George Jepsen, has been serving since January 5, 2011 and does not owe anything to Governor Schumlin. Similarly, Eric T. Schneiderman of New York and Martha Mary Coakley of Massachusetts are high quality Attorneys General and have better things to do than go about harassing nuclear power stations without good cause. Maybe there is more to the issue of safety than just glib anti-safety employees.

  • Pete Novick

    Well, look at the bright side: the used fuel rods only need to stay in spent fuel pools for 10-20 years before being transferred to dry cask storage or sent for reprocessing.
    Nuclear reactor owners see spent fuel pool solution for what it is: the least costly option for this stage of the nuclear fuel cycle.

    Based on my back of the envelope calculations, VY has enough available space to store spent fuel rods until its operating license expires in 2032.

    By then, Entergy will have filed for bankruptcy protection and the costs for shutdown, fuel removal and site remediation will fall to federal government and be funded by taxpayers.

    By then, the NRC people who approved the operating license extension will be long since retired, and everyone’s attention will be focused on the imminent collapse of social security, our 20% unemployment rate, the collapse of the Ogallala aquifer, and dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi River, by then half the size of Texas.

    So what should we do with all the spent fuel?

    To borrow an old Johnny Carson line –

    “Check it with Eastern Airlines.”

    Ain’t this a great country, or what?

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