In just one month, staff at the Nine Mile Nuclear Plant in Scriba will begin using a new storage method to contain their spent fuel, the radioactive byproduct of nuclear power. But officials say moving that fuel out of the plant to the new on-site facility is a delicate process. Our Candace Hopkins was at Nine Mile Tuesday and has more on the push to prepare the facility for the changes.
SCRIBA, N.Y. -- It's a question that is becoming more difficult to answer over time: Where can the radioactive byproduct of nuclear power, known as spent fuel, be stored?
Nuclear Regulatory Commission Public Affairs Officer Neil Sheehan says there isn't a simple answer to that question.
"We don't have a national depository, nothing on the horizon indicating we're gonna have one and we don't do recycling in this country," Sheehan said.
Meaning there's simply no place to put the nuclear waste. Initially, Olympic size pools were constructed at each nuclear plant to hold the spent fuel, but that was meant to be only a temporary solution while the federal government searched for a place to store it permanently. Decades later, a spot has not been found, so plants like Nine Mile have turned to storing the waste in on-site outdoor concrete storage modules.
"We are moving spent fuel from our spent pools inside the plant and we will be moving it out here to safely store it in dry cask storage facility," said Constellation Energy Nuclear Group Spokesperson Jill Lyon.
Nuclear plants throughout the country started using these types of storage facilities in the early 90s when the earliest constructed spent fuel pools began to fill up. But before the move can begin, staff are undergoing intense training and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will be closely monitoring the dry runs, set to begin this week.
"The inspectors are looking to make sure that the plant workers who are handling the fuel moves are adhering to all the proper procedures, that they are being as rigorous as possible, as they are moving this material," said Sheehan.
If all goes smoothly during the dry runs, Nine Mile's license to store the spent fuel in these structures will be valid for 20 years, but the hope is that the government will find a permanent solution long before then.
Nine Mile staff is scheduled to hold four dry runs, two of which will be evaluated by the NRC. Once they are completed, the spent fuel can start being moved into the storage facility.
If everything stays on track, that is expected to start sometime in September.