If the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s conclusion that it’s safe to move spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants across the country to a proposed storage facility in Lea County sounds vanilla-coated, it’s because the draft environmental impact statement for a Consolidated Interim Storage Facility submitted by Holtec International did not address how the casks containing the spent fuel would be transported to New Mexico.
It’s likely the casks would be transported primarily by rail using aging infrastructure in need of constant repair. But our rail systems were not built to support the great weight of these transport casks containing thin-wall fuel storage canisters.
Nor was the potential for cracked or corroded canisters to leak radiation studied because an earlier NRC Generic EIS for the Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel assumed damaged fuel storage canisters would be detected during an intermediary dry transfer system or a pool. But Holtec’s proposal only addresses a new destination for the high-level nuclear waste – not the removal and transport of the fuel storage canisters from nuclear power plants to New Mexico.
Even transport casks with canisters that are not damaged will release radiation as they are transported from nuclear power plants to the storage facility, exposing populations along the transport routes in a majority of states and tribal communities in New Mexico to repeated doses of radiation.
Other issues not considered in the draft EIS were the design life of the thin-wall canisters encasing the nuclear fuel rods and faulty installation at reactor sites like San Onofre, or the self-interest of the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance in using the land it acquired for a consolidated interim storage site.
Thin-wall canisters cannot be inspected for cracks and the fuel rods inside are not retrievable for inspection or monitoring without destroying the canister. NRC does not require continuous monitoring of the storage canisters for pressure changes or radiation leaks. The fuel rods inside the canisters could go critical, or result in an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction, if water enters the canisters through cracks, admits both Holtec and the NRC. None of us are safe if any canister goes critical.
Yet a site-specific storage application like Holtec’s should have addressed NRC license requirements for leak testing and monitoring, as well as the quantity and type of material that will be stored at the site, such as low burnup nuclear fuel and high burnup fuel.
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