Changes in the way nuclear plants store spent fuel, the radioactive byproduct of nuclear waste, have led to increased government oversight. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is currently conducting an environmental impact study to determine how certain kinds of spent fuel storage effect the environment. But as our Candace Hopkins reports, no matter what the study finds, there are very few storage options available.
UNITED STATES -- Nuclear plants throughout the country are being forced to find new ways to store spent fuel. When the plants were built, olympic sized pool were installed to hold it. But that was only meant to be a temporary solution.
"There was always the thought that this material was not going to be stored on-site long term, it would either be recycled, which they do in other countries, or it would go to a federal facility, operated by the Department of Energy," said Nuclear Regulatory Commission Public Affairs Officer Neil Sheehan.
Decades later, the government still has not opened a facility of that kind. And most of the pools are starting to fill up. In turn, many plants are moving the spent fuel to on-site concrete storage modules, using the dry cask method. The practice has been successfully underway since the '90s, but in June, New York and Vermont won a court decision forcing an environmental impact study on the effects.
"The agency has undertaken that, the commission has said they would like to see this environmental impact study done within about two years, as part of that we opened a public comment period that lasted 70 days, and concluded on January 2nd," said Sheehan.
The NRC is now sorting through the over 700 comments they received. A final report on the environmental impact of dry cask storage is expected by August of 2014. But in the meantime, the nuclear industry and the government will continue to search for a permanent solution for storing spent fuel.