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KRC TESTIMONY ON SENATE BILL 26 Posted: March 29, 2010
KRC TESTIMONY ON SENATE BILL 26
Before the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee
January 13, 2010
Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, I take no pleasure appearing here before you in opposition to Senator Leeper’s bill removing the 25-year moratorium on nuclear power plant construction in Kentucky. We have been colleagues for many years and have collaborated together to create positive change in the state’s environmental policies. Regrettably, I ask that you do not send this bill to the Senate floor, because it sends the wrong message to the nuclear power industry.
The current prohibition is not the obstacle that the nuclear industry must overcome. There are four major obstacles. 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. One observer has noted 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, which would be allowed under this bill, 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 further at this time, 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. Were Yucca Mountain to be available, it would be fully subscribed with existing wastes from the 104 plants already in existence, and would be unavailable for disposal of waste generated by a new fleet of nuclear power plants.
Alvin Weinberg, Director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory 40 years ago, and an advocate of nuclear power, noted 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. Dr. Peters may not have liked my reference to Dr. Weinberg’s quote, but it is an accurate quote and illuminates what I believe is a profound generational environmental justice issue. There are more responsible and less dangerous ways to boil water than splitting atoms.
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, this bill 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.
It is sobering to visit the Department of Energy webpage of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management and to read what DOE calls the “monumental task of warning future generations.” The “monumental challenge is to address how warnings can be coherently conveyed for thousands of years into the future when human society and language could change radically.” Modern English dates to the “great vowel shift” in the early 1600’s, and few modern readers can easily recognize or understand Middle English as it existed prior to that time. The longer-lived radionuclides that would need to be managed to prevent exposure have half lives of 24,000 years, and the wastes will need to be securely managed for hundreds of thousands of years.
For each and all of these reasons, I request that you vote no on this bill. Thank you.