KRC Opposes Bill That Would Lift Nuclear Plant Moratorium

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KRC Opposes Bill That Would Lift Nuclear Plant Moratorium  Posted: January 30, 2014


Mr. Chairman, Senator Leeper, members of the Committee:

I take no pleasure appearing here before you in opposition to Senator Leeper?s bill removing the 30-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. Senator Leeper has been a champion in the state’s efforts at remedying and redeveloping contaminated brownfield properties, and as I have written to the Senator, I will miss his presence in Frankfort.

Regrettably, I am here in opposition to SB 67, and ask that you do not send this bill to the Senate floor, because it sends the wrong message to the nuclear power industry regarding the level of accountability that Kentuckians expect regarding the management of wastes generated by nuclear power plants.

SB 67 would end the current moratorium on nuclear power plant construction, and would open the door to new nuclear power plants provided that there is in place a storage plan, rather than a waste disposal plan. The Council has long opposed efforts to lift the moratorium, based on our belief that absent a strategy for the long-term management of spent nuclear fuel, the indefinite storage of spent fuels in dry casks or water polls presents an inadequate answer to management of wastes whose risks to public health reach thousands of years into the future.

The current prohibition is not the obstacle that the nuclear industry must overcome if it is going to see new plant construction in Kentucky. There are four major obstacles that impede any new construction of nuclear power plants. The first is that investors are wary of investing in new plants because of the runaway capital construction costs that have plagued the industry, and concerns with the substantial costs of decommissioning plants. 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 a 2005 National Academy of Sciences assessment, few if any of the current nuclear power plan reactors could withstand an airplane attack, and such a collision could cause fatalities as far as 500 miles away with 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 the lack of any national strategy for permanent waste disposal. Each stage of the nuclear fuel cycle generates wastes that must be managed – mining, milling, conversion to gas, enrichment in order to upgrade the uranium so that it is capable of sustained nuclear reaction, fabrication of the pellets for fuel, reprocessing spent fuel, storage, and disposal. There is currently no long-term waste disposal strategy since the 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 by 1998.

The late Alvin Weinberg, Director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and an advocate of nuclear power, noted that nuclear energy required a “Faustian bargain” – the current generation would reap the benefits and place on future generations the weighty responsibility to manage for a millennium the spent fuel and other nuclear wastes.

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 somewhat 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 nuclear utilities to have in place a disposal strategy for high-level radioactive waste, and would allow generation of and indefinite on-site accumulation and storage of new radioactive wastes.

To put the issue of nuclear waste management in context, and to understand the Faustian bargain, 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 no modern reader 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. A strategy for such management should be in place before new plants are commissioned.

In 2012, at the request of a member of the House, I drafted a HB 559, creating a carefully-crafted exception to the current moratorium, in order to allow Kentucky to be considered for the siting of an advanced design, closed fuel cycle high temperature nuclear reactor that could be used to power the conversion of coal or gas. I did so at the request of workers in the Paducah area who were concerned with the loss of jobs associated with the closure of the gaseous diffusion plant, and I supported the exception because the design of the nuclear-assisted conversion process resulted in a 97% reduction in wastes over conventional nuclear power plants, and allowed for in-ground storage of the wastes, significantly reducing homeland security concerns and risks of accidental releases of spent fuel to the environment. As Secretary Peters noted in a letter sent to a conservation organization that had requested the Governor to veto that bill, “HB 559 specifically excludes any facility that would generate electricity as its primary product; any electricity produced for the grid would be ancillary to the primary purpose of the facility, and therefore ratepayers would not be affected by the provisions of this legislation.” SB 67 could, on the contrary, result in proposals by regulated electric utilities for new nuclear plant construction that could significantly increase costs to ratepayers even if proposed plants were not placed in operation.

For each and all of these reasons, I ask you to vote against sending SB 67 to the floor. Thank you.
By Kentucky Resources Council on 01/30/2014 5:32 PM
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