20 years later, nuclear waste still at Maine Yankee

Posted:  Wednesday, October 11, 2017 - 9:30am
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The annual meeting of the Maine Yankee Community Advisory Panel was held at the Wiscasset Community Center’s Senior Center on Oct. 10, and all agreed on one surprising thing. They were still trying to move Maine Yankee’s nuclear waste after 20 years.

The plant was decommissioned in 1997, and the CAP was formed to keep the public informed about the status of the nuclear waste removal. No one at the time thought the waste – 1,434 spent nuclear fuel rods now stored in 60 steel canisters encased in concrete, and another four casks of irradiated steel from the reactor building, each weighing 100 tons – would still be at Maine Yankee 20 years later.

CAP Chair Don Hudson said to Pat Dostie, state nuclear safety inspector, “We’ve been doing this far too long. My hair is gray. When we started this, it was brown. Your hair is gray, and your hair was solid black.”

“I know,” Dostie said.

The federal government was supposed to remove the fuel in 1998, but those plans fell through when the national nuclear repository was the subject of numerous lawsuits and ultimately was defunded. Since then, Maine Yankee has successfully sued the federal government three times and is planning a fourth phase for $35 million in damages from 2013 to 2016 for the Department of Energy’s failure to honor its contractual obligations to remove the waste.

The CAP held a small ceremony to mark its 20th anniversary. Hudson and Dan Thompson, who was planner in Wiscasset in 1997, were honored with plaques as the sole remaining original members. Members of the panel received coffee mugs with the occasion and the date. Eric Howes, director of Public and Government Affairs for Maine Yankee, received a certificate to a restaurant.

Among new developments, Dostie announced that the problem with some of the thermoluminescent dosimeters, which measure ionizing radiation exposure, was identified. Some did not have adequate insulation and too much background radiation was getting through to the collectors. The devices are being replaced but the amount of extra radiation detected is unknown. After discussion with the vendor’s technical consultant, there may be an answer to the question by the first half of next year.

Dostie also announced that the federal government had developed several routes to remove the waste to the repository or to an interim site once one is approved and identified. Options include sending the waste on train cars, barges, or trucks as far as Portland, then train car to the repository site or the Consolidated Interim Site.  However, Congress has not funded either program and seems poised to end an Obama-era program to try to identify towns that would voluntarily choose to become an interim site. The two sites already identified, in New Mexico and West Texas, both have obstacles, Dostie said, and neither site could be used until the permanent repository site at Yucca Mountain received final approval.

Chemical groundwater monitoring at the site is only monitoring seven of 21 original wells, and approval is being sought to end the groundwater program early. Radiological groundwater testing was complete in 2011. The chemical levels in the water appear to be stable and since the groundwater on the site cannot be used for drinking, there is little point in continuing to test the water, according to J. Stanley Brown, independent spent fuel installation manager at Maine Yankee.