PO Box 1070, Frankfort, KY 40602 Phone 502.875.2428, Fax 502.875.2845
Nuclear Power Plant Siting And Permitting Discussed Posted: December 9, 2009
Nuclear Power Plant Siting And Permitting
33rd Governor’s Conference On The Environment
October 1, 2009 Lexington, Kentucky
Tom FitzGerald, Director
Kentucky Resources Council
I appreciate this opportunity to discuss, along with my colleagues from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Public Service Commission, the barriers to and issues regarding nuclear power plant siting and permitting.
In my time, I’d like to address the "core" issues that I believe must be resolved in order for nuclear energy to play any role in Kentucky’s energy future.
The first issue that impedes any new construction of nuclear power plants using fission to heat water to drive turbines, is that private investors are wary of investments in new plants because of the runaway capital construction costs. There have been no new plants ordered since 1974 and while we would like to think that the public protests to new power plant construction were the catalyst for the slowing and finally the halt to new nuclear power capacity expansion, it was instead the flight of investors during to staggering overruns in cost.
Amory Lovins has suggested that the nuclear industry has and continues to suffer from an “incurable attack of market forces.”
Forbes has called nuclear investment experience “the largest managerial disaster in business history.”
The second obstacle is that of safety and security. The indefinite dry cask or pool storage of spent fuels at reactors creates a potential threat from terrorism or mismanagement of the wastes. According to the National Academy of Sciences, none of the reactors could withstand an airplane attack, and such a collision could cause fatalities as far as 500 miles away and ten times the destruction caused by the Chernobyl incident.
The third is a concern regarding proliferation and weaponization of plutonium.
The last significant obstacle is that of waste disposal. Each stage of the nuclear fuel cycle generates wastes that must be managed – mining, milling, conversion to gas, gaseous diffusion in order to upgrade (enrich) the uranium so that it is capable of sustained nuclear reaction, fabrication of the pellets for fuel, reprocessing spent fuel, storage, transportation and disposal. There is currently no disposal strategy since the Obama Administration has concluded that the Yucca Mountain project will not be pursued, and the federal government is funding the interim storage and paying significant judgments for partially breaching its contract to begin disposal of the spent fuel from civilian nuclear power plants in 1998.
Alvin Weinberg, Director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory 40 years ago, warned that nuclear energy required a “Faustian bargain” – the current generation would reap the benefits and would trade the safety of future generations in order to do so.
A bill has been prefiled in the Kentucky General Assembly for the 2010 Session that would eliminate the current requirement that, prior to construction of a nuclear plant in Kentucky, the applicant have a strategy for permanent disposal of the waste, and replace it only with a requirement for a storage plan.
KRC believes that prior to development of any new nuclear power plants, a strategy for permanent disposal of the wastes should be in place. The indefinite storage of high-level wastes at nuclear plants in pools and dry cask storage presents significant homeland security concerns and is not a suitable surrogate for secure disposal of wastes that pose human and ecological risks for thousands of years. It is ironic that while Kentucky law requires each county to have in place a plan for disposal of garbage, SB 13 would remove the requirement for utilities to have in place a disposal strategy for high-level radioactive waste, and allow generation and indefinite on-site accumulation and storage of new radioactive wastes.