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Tribe ‘disappointed’ in waste storage rule

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved Tuesday a final rule and environmental impact statement governing the continued storage of spent nuclear fuel at reactors across the country.

The Prairie Island Indian Community expressed disappointment with the decision, saying the rule opens the door to keeping 1.5 million pounds of radioactive waste at Xcel Energy’s Prairie Island nuclear plant for decades to come.

While the rule does not permit nuclear plants to store spent fuel for a specific length of time, the NRC says it will be used during the licensing process for on-site storage after a reactor ceases operations.

“Yesterday the NRC affirmed a new rule and generic environmental impact statement that conclude that spent nuclear fuel – some of the most dangerous and toxic substances known to mankind – can be safely stored 600 yards from our homes indefinitely if no geologic repository is ever built,” said Prairie Island Indian Community Tribal Council President Ron Johnson in a statement Wednesday.

“No other community sits as close to a nuclear site and its waste storage,” he added.

The federal government was supposed to build a site to accept the nation’s nuclear waste for permanent storage under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, but failed to meet a 1998 deadline. Opening of a storage facility at Yucca Mountain in the Nevada desert stalled amid years of funding and licensing battles.

The continued storage rule is the result of a 2012 order by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit directing the NRC to consider the possibility that no permanent storage facility will be available in the future, and to further analyze the risk of fuel leaks and fires.

Temporary storage of nuclear waste in steel casks was approved at Prairie Island in 1994.

The Prairie Island Indian Community says there are 36 casks at the plant now, and that 98 casks will be needed if the twin reactor facility continues to operate until its license expires in 2034.

The NRC also approved this week to lift a two-year suspension on issuing reactor and fuel storage licenses as soon as the rule goes into effect by the end of September.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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