News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Above-ground nuclear storage potential threat

Environmentalists opposing nuclear energy sometimes tend to be alarmists, but they do raise prudent concerns over storage of used fuel rods. The issue came up again last week at a meeting at Calhoun Community College during a Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearing on the pending restart of Unit 1 at Browns Ferry in Limestone County.

Nationwide, 55,000 metric tons of waste are in temporary storage and growing some 2,000 tons each year. Yet Washington keeps pushing back the opening date of the permanent storage site in Nevada's Yucca Mountain.

Environmentalists worry that the 1,400 metric tons of waste stored above ground at Browns Ferry and the 37 tons stored outside are too close to the Tennessee River and poses a potential danger to the water supply.

The Tennessee River Authority and NRC repeatedly assure the public that the storage poses no dangers. But accidents do happen. There is the ever-present threat of terrorism, also.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., added perspective to the problem last week. If the storage site meets the most recent opening date of 2017, the waste already stockpiled and that accumulated over the next 11 years will fill the facility.

Even so, that would eliminate the present threat. But without expanding Yucca or finding a new site, the problem will begin to build again.

The nation has little choice but to move ahead with new nuclear facilities to help feed the nation's energy appetite. One might think that, with the Bush administration's justifiable obsession with national security, it wouldn't have allowed the opening date to slip from 2010 to 2017.

The environmentalists are right, only the degree to which the above-ground storage is a threat is debatable. The way to end the debate is to move the waste to permanent storage.

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