Mississippi futuregazing at waste facility

27 August 2013

A Mississippi business group has formally urged the state's senate to consider establishing a dedicated management centre to provide interim storage for used nuclear fuel, with a longer-term view to recycling and even final disposal.

The not-for-profit Mississippi Energy Institute (MEI) has placed a white paper setting out its case for consideration before the state senate's Economic and Development Committee. In it, the organisation describes the USA's current used fuel management framework, typified by what it calls the "Yucca Mountain experience", as "paralysed by politics." According to Mississippi's Clarion-Ledger, the MEI's public presentation to the committee was due to be followed by a closed meeting with business and political leaders.

According to the MEI, reassessment of the nation's approach to the management of used fuel provides an opportunity for Mississippi to "structure a consent-based host agreement" offering significant benefits to the state, itself home to the Grand Gulf nuclear power plant. The consolidated used nuclear fuel management centre envisaged by the MEI would, in the near term, involve the construction of a facility for the storage and monitoring of used fuel, which it estimates would cost over $500 million. In the medium term, a facility to "leverage" the used fuel through recycling would require investments of over $15 billion. Looking even further ahead, the MEI notes, Mississippi's geologic salt domes could provide an opportunity for co-located final repository facilities.

The benefits to the state's economy, including research and development opportunities, manufacturing and supply chain and workforce development, represent an opportunity to develop a "massive nuclear industry cluster" in the state, the MEI claims. Mississippi's only nuclear power plant, Grand Gulf, already generates some 20% of the state's electricity and contributes $470 million to the local economy, according to the US Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI).

The management of used nuclear fuel in the USA is governed by the 1992 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which established federal responsibility for the management of used fuel and currently precludes reprocessing and recycling. The MEI notes that concerted regulatory and legislative actions would be needed at the federal and state levels before its vision could become a reality. The lack of a "clear endgame" for commercial used fuel, the institute warns, could mean uncertainty for the future licensing of existing plants such as Grand Gulf as well as new nuclear power plants. Over 810 tonnes of used fuel are currently in storage at the Grand Gulf site, and the MEI points out that Mississippi rate-payers have to date contributed over $394 million to the $32 billion in the Nuclear Waste Fund set up under US legislation to finance the management of used fuel.

A move to establish a centralised interim storage facility for used fuel in Utah was formally abandoned by the Private Fuel Storage consortium in January 2013. In the same month, the US Department of Energy announced a new strategy towards waste disposal including the establishment of interim fuel storage facilities, working with within a consent-based siting process. A New Mexico-based consortium, the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance (ELEA), has already announced its intention to submit a licence application for such a facility in 2014.

The MEI, which represents a wide range of energy companies and other businesses, exists with the avowed primary objective to diversify and improve Mississippi’s economic energy base.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News