The Mounting Problem Of Nuclear Waste
December 31, 1998
The nation's nuclear power plants have accumulated nearly 37,000 tons of highly radioactive spent fuel on their grounds -- increasingly sealing it in outdoor, cement containers near highways, cities and water supplies. The plants never intended to keep so much material on hand, but the federal government's delay in creating a central storage facility made the buildup inevitable.
- A USA Today analysis of Nuclear Regulatory Commission data shows that within five years, 31 of the nation's 110 operating commercial nuclear power plants won't have the capacity to remove their entire fuel supply from the reactor and store it on site -- as may be required in an emergency.
- Four plants are currently unable to do so.
- The Department of Energy was supposed to start picking up the spent fuel this year -- but that has not happened, since it still has not built a permanent waste repository.
- Since 1982, consumers who get their electricity from nuclear plants have paid more than $12 billion into a fund to investigate a long-term waste repository.
DOE has been studying the problem for 16 years. At this pace, experts say, the very earliest a site could be functional would be 2010.
Meanwhile, 361 of the 19-foot-tall, steel-lined cement casks are stationed at 19 nuclear plants in nine states east of the Rockies -- and NRC says more are on the way.
Source: Kathryn Winiarski, "With Nowhere to Go, Nuclear Waste Piles Up," USA Today, December 31, 1998.
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