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Nuclear fuel rods still kept in Rowe

Sunday, October 1, 2000 By DAVID A. VALLETTE

ROWE  Yankee Atomic Electric Co., with no permanent resting place for the used nuclear fuel piled up at its closed power plant, wants the federal Department of Energy to create a temporary burial ground.

The Yankee Nuclear Power Station last shipped out spent fuel rods in 1978, when the federal government still allowed the "reprocessing" of fuel for other uses.

Since then, used fuel rods have remained on site, sitting in racks or "assemblies" submerged in an indoor water pool to keep them from overheating. There are now 533 fuel rod assemblies in the pool, with nowhere to go.

The plant was permanently shut down in 1992 after 32 years of operation. Its disassembly and decontamination have been going on ever since.

But the fuel pool remains, monitored and controlled for temperature.

"The only reason we will still be in business after dismantling is to store fuel, and that's not right," said Kenneth J. Heider, vice president of operations and decommissioning.

Yankee's battle to get rid of the "hot rods" so the plant site can be completely cleaned up is being waged in the courts and in Washington. The federal Energy Department, following the 1978 order that the fuel stay on site at each plant, signed contracts to take the fuel off the utility companies' hands beginning in 1998.

But 1998 came and went, and Yankee still could not ship out the fuel because no federal depository had been created. Yankee, and partner companies in Connecticut and Maine where shutdown plants have run into the same problem as Rowe, filed suit and won judgments against the Energy Department, yet has not been able to force the federal agency to take the rods.

"Because of the government's breach, the Yankee companies have spent or will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build and operate special, independent, long-term storage facilities to maintain the spent fuel that the government has failed to remove," Russell A. Mellor, president and chief executive officer of Yankee Atomic as well as Connecticut Yankee testified Thursday before the U.S. Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The Rowe fuel rods, under a schedule issued by Yankee officials Thursday, will start leaving the water pool next year and will be encased in special canisters for dry storage on an outside concrete pad. The process, involving building the pad, making the canisters, and transferring the rods into them, will cost up to $20 million.

The pad is nearing completion and the first pair of canisters is on an assembly line at a manufacturing site in Japan.

Should a federal depository arrive, the dry storage system would give Yankee a leg up in the shipping process because the canisters will fit into a shipping cask.

In all, 16 canisters will be needed to handle all of Rowe's fuel. Wrapped in a steel liner and an outside blanket of concrete, they could remain in Rowe for decades.

-- Martin Thompson (, October 01, 2000


Oh, yes, spent fuel rods are about the biggest problem of the nuclear business.

-- Loner (, October 01, 2000.

We have nuclear reactors. The spent fuel rods have to go somewhere. So long as no such site as Yucca Mountain--whatever its faults or failings--is selected for a high-level rad-waste storage facility, then the rods are kept on site at the reactor, and every reactor facility thus is a de facto high-level rad-waste storage facility ... and a completely unstudied, uncharacterized one at that.

-- L. Hunter Cassells (, October 02, 2000.

They're doing the same thing at the site of the Maine Yankee n-plant in Wiscasset, Maine. Most of the plant has been dismantled, but the spent fuel rods will remain in the concrete cannister containment system for ???? years. Maybe this is how we should answer people who think we should begin building nuclear power plants again.

-- Cash (, October 02, 2000.

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