Guest Blog: Nuke license: Callaway project slow to hatch
The proposed next stage of nuclear power plant construction and operation at the Callaway site is on a slow track.
Everything related to nuclear plant development in this country is on a slow track. Makes you wonder why we can't do as well as the Europeans.
Not long ago, a court of appeals issued a moratorium on new licensing permits issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission pending a full environmental assessment of long-term waste disposal plans. Citing the court order, a coalition of environmental groups petitioned the NRC to avoid issuing permits until the assessment is made.
Ameren is seeking an extension of its Callaway Nuclear Plant permit through the year 2044. A spokesman said the company realizes the court decision might prevent the NRC from issuing a permit until the issue is resolved. It also could affect progress on an exciting plan by Ameren and Westinghouse to build state-of-the-art smaller generating plants at Callaway for use on site and perhaps beyond.
The issue of safe storage for nuclear power plant waste is as much political as environmental. Indeed, nuclear scientists for years have argued the storage issue is primarily political, a refusal of official decision-makers to proceed with feasible plans solely because of ill-founded environmental challenges, a sclerosis that eventually stymied plans to develop a national storage site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada that scientists claimed would have done the job.
Now, without overtly taking political sides, environmentalists can argue permitting should be put on hold simply because nobody has done a definitive assessment of long-range storage dangers.
Environmentalists and other nuclear generation opponents will win this temporary argument simply because the current stalemate is not a nicely vetted policy for a plan forward.
The original sin occurred during the Carter administration when the United States decided foolishly not to allow reprocessing of spent fuel because terrorists might be able to seize the more highly concentrated residue to make atomic bombs. This moment of unwarranted paranoia, translated into destructive public policy, has plagued the industry and the nation ever since.
Overseas nations handle nuclear waste much more easily because 90 percent of used fuel can be reprocessed for reuse generating power. The remaining 10 percent can be stored easily and safely, as nations such as France and England have shown.
A change in U.S. policy to allow reprocessing should be done immediately. I'm not sure whether this would allow reprocessing of existing waste fuel supplies, but it certainly would pave the way for a more rational future.
If current waste must be permanently stored without reprocessing, our smart class should get going on a solution so nuclear power progress can resume. Ironically, decision-makers have been able to dawdle because current on-site storage is working well enough. Some argue continuing with on-site storage is a feasible long-term solution.
The next step will have to be the court-ordered assessment of environmental implications, a process in which science will be tempered by politics. When government is required to set safety standards for something as controversial as long-term nuclear waste storage, politics pose almost impossible hurdles. What official wants to promise eternal safety? The only safe level of risk is zero.
Yet officials are able to allow highway traffic, where the odds of human damage are infinitely greater. No political protest calls for an embargo on driving wheel to wheel with lethal multi-ton vehicles under fallible human control. If official evaluation of potential danger had been needed to build the highway system, we'd all be walking or riding camels. As it is, we insist on our cars even though driving ensures a degree of public mayhem far beyond anything threatened by nuclear waste storage.
Let's quit sucking our thumbs and get on with it.