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Vermont Nuclear Shutdown highlights reality of nuclear’s radioactive legacy

text-wise-owlAnother Reactor Closes, Punctuating New Reality for U.S. Nuclear Power As Vermont Yankee shuts down, the U.S. has yet to address industry issues that span decades Christina Nunez National Geographic JANUARY 1, 2015

As another nuclear power plant closed this week, the United States faced a dwindling fleet of aging reactors, few new projects, and the challenge of safely mothballing radioactive fuel for decades……..

So far, nuclear isn’t winning. Vermont Yankee, which shut down Monday after 42 years of operation, is the fourth U.S. nuclear facility to close in two years. For the owners of each recent retiree—from Vermont Yankee to San Onofre in California, Kewaunee in Wisconsin, and Crystal River in Florida—the math just didn’t work.

“When we looked at the cost of those improvements with what we projected as the cost of energy, the decision was that it would be better to shut the plant down,” said Martin Cohn, spokesperson for Vermont Yankee’s operator, Entergy.

More closures in the United States, the world’s largest producer of nuclear power, could lead to a far different nuclear landscape from the one imagined before the gas boom.

Nuclear’s Long-Term Legacy

Technically, the decades-long process of decommissioning a nuclear plant hasn’t changed much over the years: The reactor is shut down, the radioactive fuel is removed and encased for storage, and the plant itself is eventually dismantled.

“We will have a concrete pad with a bunch of casks of spent fuel on it that will look almost exactly like the ones at Maine Yankee or Yankee Rowe [in Massachusetts],” which retired in 1996 and 1991, respectively, said Chris Wamser, Vermont Yankee site vice president.

The rules surrounding that process haven’t changed either, which is a problem, according to Vermont Yankee executives. “Just because we shut down, we’re still a nuclear plant with a license,” said Barrett Green, who is leading the project. He said the NRC hasn’t finalized a road map for decommissioning.

Waste-Confidence-Rule

“We’ve had to make all sorts of petitions for amendments to the license, or exceptions to a rule, or various other allowances for the regulatory process to say it’s OK for us to stop maintaining a system that we’re never going to need again,” Green said.

Outgoing Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Allison Macfarlane acknowledged this issue at a National Press Club luncheon in November, suggesting that the agency has not prepared for a future where, instead of overseeing new nuclear plants, it is reckoning with older plants such as Vermont Yankee retiring ahead of schedule.

“The predicted ‘nuclear renaissance’ did not materialize,” Macfarlane said. “It’s time for the NRC to develop regulations specific to the decommissioning of nuclear power plants and to structure public expectations of the process.”………On Twitter: Follow Christina Nunez and get more environment and energy coverage at NatGeoGreen. The story is part of a special series that explores energy issues. For more, visit The Great Energy Challengehttp://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2015/01/150101-vermont-yankee-shutdown-us-nuclear-issues/

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January 2, 2015 - Posted by | USA, wastes

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