A new storage facility for spent nuclear fuel that has been accumulating at Plant Vogtle for decades will go into operation a few months later than planned, according to Southern Nuclear officials.
The waste, part of 2,490 metric tons of the material statewide, has been stored in concrete-lined pools since Vogtle’s first two reactors began operating in 1987 and 1989.
Because those pools will be filled to capacity in 2014, the company announced more than two years ago that it would construct above-ground “dry cask” facilities that will enable the material to be stored in Burke County for a longer time.
The initial placement of spent fuel in the first of two new storage areas at Vogtle was scheduled to occur in July but has been delayed by issues, including late delivery of equipment.
In an April 23 letter to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, company officials said the initial operation of the site is now scheduled for Oct. 14, which will still allow the dry cask site to begin operations well before existing pools reach capacity.
Aside from equipment delivery issues and preparing for final NRC demonstrations, the project has moved along smoothly, said Southern Nuclear spokeswoman Michelle Tims.
“Southern Nuclear has made good progress to date with respect to design and installation of the facility, despite the abnormal amount of rain experienced this spring,” she said.
Plant Vogtle is among many plants whose spent fuel remains in limbo after the administration canceled the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada, which was designed as a final disposal site for spent fuel and other radioactive wastes.
Under the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the Department of Energy remains responsible for disposal solutions. Alternatives – including consolidated interim storage and reprocessing – are now being re-examined, with Savannah River Site possibly playing a role in such programs.
Many commercial nuclear plant operators, however, have lobbied for reinstatement of the Yucca Mountain project.
Southern Co. executives who testified before a Blue Ribbon Commission exploring spent fuel disposal alternatives said its customers have paid about $1 billion into a nuclear waste fund that was to finance a permanent repository for spent fuel.
Plant Vogtle is among many sites where long-term cask storage systems are being built.
Cask storage is already in place at Vogtle’s sister nuclear plants Hatch and Farley. Those sites are among 51 licensed cask facilities in 47 places in the U.S., according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
With no clear plan in sight for a national geologic repository, the NRC revealed in a 2011 Federal Register notice that it has drafted longer-term rules for storing both spent fuel and high-level radioactive wastes in their current locations for as long as 120 years.
Southern Nuclear told the NRC in 2011 that it expects to fill 110 dry storage casks by 2035 – all from the existing inventory of spent fuel from Units 1 and 2.
Two additional units – 3 and 4 – remain under construction nearby and will have their own independent storage sites for spent fuel when they begin commercial operation. Those startup dates are now projected for the fourth quarter of 2017 and 2018, respectively.