Nuclear Waste Disposal and Issues of Health and Safety
November 22, 1996
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Topics covered in this forum:
- Will taxpayers or utility customers pay for nuclear waste cleanup?
- What is the best way to handle nuclear waste, at nuclear plants or at a central location?
- How can nuclear waste be transported safely?
- What is the status of the Rocky Flats Arsenal cleanup?
- Why can't nuclear waste be mixed with the ground it came from?
- How long before we have the techonology for a permanent solution to nuclear waste?
- Is Yucca Flats the solution for America's nuclear waste?
- Is the nuclear industry more responsive to criticism than before?
- Viewer comments on nuclear waste
Robert Davis of Emporia, KS, asks:
Now I live about 30 miles from the only nuclear generating station in Kansas. Suddenly, I find myself thinking more and more about the storage of nuclear waste materials. Recognizing that since Three-Mile Island and especially since Chernobyl, no new nuclear plants have been started in the U.S., I remain really curious about the plans -- and the cost of the plans -- to take care of and keep safe, the nuclear facilities like Wolf Creek here in Kansas. Are we going to have monstrous tax or utility cost increases to pay for these plants into the next tens of decades -- or longer?
Tom Carpenter of the Government Accountability Project replies:
Some of the nuclear waste disposal costs from private nuclear generating utilities have been built into the costs of running the plants. Theoretically, your utility bill should not rise significantly because of the costs associated with nuclear waste disposal from Wolf Creek. But that's only if everything goes as planned. Your tax dollars are certainly subsidizing the costs of building the nuclear waste storage facilities in Yucca Flats, NV, and the WIPP facility in New Mexico. The fate of both facilities, especially the Yucca Mountain facility, is in doubt. As to the oceans of military nuclear waste still awaiting cleanup, that bill is supposed to cost in the neighborhood of $200 billion, but may go as high as a trillion dollars.
Jim Werner of the Department of Energy replies:
We can answer the question with regard to high level waste. Information is not reeadily available on other forms of radioactive waste. The Wolf Creek plant is capable of safely storing the presently configured spent fuel through 2006. If a federal waste repository is not available by 2006 (temporary or permanent), Wolf Creek will need to rerack their waste. This will allow them to continue to safely store the spent fuel and still have full core off-load capabilities through 2023. There are no plans to increase rates to accommodate storage as the cost of Wolf Creek's share to support Yucca Mountain is already in the rate base. To date, Wolf Creek has contributed more than $82 million into the waste fund. Some plants may need to resort to dry cask storage, while others could be forced to close prematurely due to lack of storage space, assuming a nuclear waste storage solution is not available. Because all costs for decommissioning a plant are set aside gradually during the operating life of the plant, plant owners only face funding problems with premature closing.
Wolf Creek is consistently high in plant performance, according to information from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. They are among the top two plants in the United States in low fuel costs and their per kilowatt costs are also among the nation's best. In 1995, they operated at a record 99 percent capacity factor producing more electricity than any other nuclear plant.