COLUMBIA --- The company that runs a Fairfield County nuclear plant is planning to store radioactive waste in steel and concrete containers instead of submerging the refuse in water pools.
The South Carolina Electric & Gas plan to build dry cask storage units at its V.C. Summer nuclear plant will relieve pressure on its spent-fuel pool, according to a report Sunday by The State of Columbia.
The plans would make the utility, which has its headquarters in Cayce, the last power company in South Carolina to use the system, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Facilities operated by Duke Energy near Seneca and Rock Hill, and Progress Energy's site at Hartsville, rely partially on the dry cask system for storing nuclear waste.
Scores of facilities across the country already have moved to using dry casks.
The pool that nuclear-industry watchers say contains more than 1,000 used fuel assemblies with nuclear fuel pellets has capacity until 2017. SCE&G says it plans to start using the dry cask storage units in 2015.
"With a combination of wet and dry storage, V.C. Summer is well-prepared to store used fuel safely on site for as long as needed," the company wrote in an e-mail to the paper.
Company officials have not confirmed that number but said plans for the storage units will cut down on the amount of nuclear waste now stored in the pool, which is about half the size of a tennis court. Waste in the casks will be stored above ground and shielded by thick walls in containers that one federal nuclear official said look like giant beer kegs.
Anti-nuclear activists say dry cask storage is safer than pools if nuclear waste has to stay on site. That's looking more likely with plans for long-term storage sites such as Yucca Mountain tabled.
Using dry casks saves power; energy is needed to keep cooling water in basins but isn't needed for dry cask storage.
But Tom Clements with Friends of the Earth said the issue for SCE&G will be to make sure the dry containers are strong enough to withstand a sudden impact such as a terrorist attack.
"They'll have to prove they are able to withstand sudden missile attacks and threats like that," Clements said. "I'm not convinced they are."
SCE&G spokeswoman Rhonda O'Banion said the containers will be safe.
"Dry-storage containers employ a robust steel and concrete design that will allow them to withstand a severe impact," she wrote in an e-mail.
O'Banion did not say how much the dry cask storage system will cost SCE&G but did say the U.S. Department of Energy will reimburse SCE&G for much of the cost. The government had an agreement to start taking the waste in 1998, but because Yucca Mountain never opened, has not done so.
Licensing is needed for the casks, and SCE&G has a meeting planned with the NRC.