Vermont Looks To Texas For Radioactive Waste Disposal

Oct 2, 2013

An Austin-based commission that oversees a radioactive waste disposal site in Texas met in Vermont on Wednesday.

The discussion at the meeting of the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission revolved partly around details of requests from companies from Maryland to California to ship low level waste to the West Texas facility.

The commission includes several Vermont members because 20 years ago Vermont entered into an agreement with Texas for the disposal of waste in the Lone Star state.

In a brief appearance before the body, which met in Montpelier, Governor Peter Shumlin stressed the importance of the Texas-Vermont compact.

Shumlin says as other older nuclear plants are shut down, demand for a place to dispose of low level waste will increase.

“My concern is that we remember that Vermont and Texas have access to space first because we did it right and that we insure that the market pressures and forces protect the space that our two states are going to need as we go forward,” the governor told commission members.

Under the agreement, which has no expiration date, Texas guarantees Vermont 17 percent of the disposal site’s capacity. 

The site accepts several levels of radioactive waste.  The lowest level, known as Class A typically comes from hospitals and colleges.

Higher, Class B and C waste is often produced by nuclear power plants. But it’s not the most radioactive waste such as spent fuel rods.

The waste producers pay to send it to the Texas facility which is the only one in the country that takes all three classes of waste.

Public Service Department Commissioner Chris Recchia says the compact with Texas will assure that there is somewhere to send all the low level waste produced by the Vermont Yankee decommissioning.

“Most of the materials from Vermont Yankee when it is decommissioned would end up going to this facility.  The things that would not, of course are the fuel rods and the higher radioactive materials,” he said.

Exactly when that lower level waste will be sent to Texas will depend in part on what the Yankee decommissioning plan is.  

Entergy Corporation, which owns the plant, has indicated it prefers a long term plan known as SAFSTOR, which could take 60 years to complete. The state wants a much shorter timeline.

Mike Twomey is vice president of external affairs with Entergy.

He says it’s too early to say whether the state and the company are on different pages on decommissioning. Twomey says once the plant closes, a study will be done that will determine the schedule.  

“Once we establish that timeline, then we’ll know what page we’re on and what page other people are on.  But we won’t have anything to disagree about until we complete the study,” he said.

The storage of high level radioactive waste remains an unresolved issue. With no federal facility to send it to, the reactor fuel rods will be stored onsite in dry casks.  Currently there are 13 loaded dry casks at the Vermont Yankee site.

Twomey says it will require approximately 58 to store all of the fuel rods the plant has produced during its lifetime.