Blurt: Seven Days Staff Blog

NOTE: Blurt has been retired and is no longer updated regularly. For new content, follow these links:

OFF MESSAGE: Vermont News and Politics
BITE CLUB: Food and Drink Blog

« Brunoise This!: Jr. Iron Cheftestants Serve It Up | Main | Artist George Tooker, 1920-2011 »

March 29, 2011

Investigative Series Finds New England Nukes Packed with Spent Fuel

Canary-nuclear-plant2On the heels of Japan's nuclear bad news comes this, closer to home.

Vermont Yankee and several other New England nuclear power plants are packed with up to five times more spent fuel than the storage pools were originally designed to hold. This discovery was made by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting and Connecticut Hearst Media Group.

Allowing the industry to store additional fuel in the pools within the reactor containment building has saved nuclear power plant owners millions of dollars, the report found.

The investigative series — The Canary in the Nuclear Plant — launched Sunday in several Hearst papers in Connecticut as well as four Hearst television stations: WPTZ NewsChannel 5, WCVB in Boston, WMUR in New Hampshire and WMTW in Portland, Maine.

(Full disclosure: I am working on this series as a contributing reporter for NECIR. My byline will appear on future installments.)

The first report, authored by Hearst investigative reporter Bill Cummings, focused on the amounts of spent fuel that nuclear power plants have been allowed to store in their spent-fuel pools, rather than putting the fuel in more expensive dry casks. And time may be running out, Cummings found, for keeping the fuel inside the plants.

"The NRC estimates that by 2015 many of the nation’s spent-fuel pools, particularly in older plants like many in this region, will run out of room. Then, operators will face an unpleasant choice: Move waste into dry casks to free up space in the pools, or shut down their plants," writes Cummings.

At Vermont Yankee, the storage pool contains five times as many spent fuel rods as the pool was designed for. That pool is several stories high in the plant. Check out these infographics that show how dry casks work and where the spent-fuel pools are located.

VY's storage pool was originally licensed to hold 600 spent fuel assemblies and now contains 2935 of them. That's 932 metric tons of radioactive waste, Cummings writes. The nation's 104 reactors collectively hold 63,000 metric tons of spent fuel rods.

VY has already been granted approval to move some of that fuel into dry casks, a process that began in 2008.

NRC officials say the decision to allow reactor owners to pack more fuel into the storage pools has not increased the safety risk to the public.

“The NRC, after careful study of the safety and security issues, concluded that fuel is safely stored in wet pools or dry storage casks. There is no justification, from a safety or security viewpoint, for removing fuel from pools and loading it into casks in order to return to low-density racking,” NRC spokeswoman Diane Screnci told Cummings.

In addition to the report on spent fuel, Cummings reports that a meltdown at one of the New England reactors could be catastrophic, given how close some of the plants are to the region's population centers.

"A nuclear disaster in New England would truly be the sum of all fears. Studies project that thousands would be killed and huge areas rendered uninhabitable, potentially displacing one-sixth of the nation’s population," writes Cummings. "As such, it is the very definition of a terrorist objective."

The series will continue in the coming weeks.

" Funding for development of Yucca Mountain waste site was terminated in 2010 and the NRC license application was withdrawn in March 2011. This leaves the United States without any long term storage site for its high level radioactive waste, currently stored on-site at various nuclear facilities around the country. "

Re: the alarmist and sensationalistic graphic that accompanies your "investigative report":

1. It refers to Nuclear Power Plants "in the New England Region." Is that different from, oh, "New England"? If so, what is the "New England Region"?

2. The graphic shows 4 classic cone-shaped containment buildings (a la 3 Mile Island) with steam coming off the top. That implies a depiction of an operating power plant. So, exactly which New England power plant is depicted in your alarmist graphic? There are 5 operating plants in New England (Millstone (2), in CT; Pilgrim, in Mass.; VY, in VT; and Seabrook, in NH). NONE of them have the cone-shaped containment bulidings depicted in your graphic. Even if you include New York in the "New England Region," the only operating NY nuclear station that has a cone-shaped containment building is Scriba, and that has one cone, not 4.

So what is the irrelevant graphic supposed to be depicting? Fear and alarm?

Not to worry, the only tsunami to hit Vermont will be made up of VY lobbyists and television commercials.

Which won't come close to the puppetmastering that VPIRG does with its bought-and-paid-for Democratic caucus under the Dome.

Fascinating that so many commenters don't find it relevant news or cause for investigation that our local nuclear reactors don't have the storage capacity for the waste they are producing. Or that discussion or reporting of this problem is a democratic conspiracy.

Seems very straightforward, actually. We all live relatively close to plants that produce a dangerous by-product. The storage of said by-product is lacking.

@Murphy - of course this report is alarmist. Deservedly so, as it's an inherently alarming topic. Anyone who doesn't find the concept that our nuclear power plants are running/have run out of space for their waste alarming needs to spend some time reading about nuclear energy and waste. Would you want this stuff in your backyard?

The word "region" is probably one of the few things about this report that is not actually alarmist. Google "New England region". 72,000,000 hits. Not a huge stretch to use that phrase. And you answer your own query as to why they use the photo they did when you described it as classic design.

"our local nuclear reactors don't have the storage capacity for the waste they are producing"

I don't see where anyone is saying that. I can't even tell if Totten understands that "designed for" and "licensed for" are vastly different things.

On a side note, check out the writing on the infographics (such as "overloading conditions") - this can't be a professional journalist writing this stuff, is it a college student? And please tell me that it wasn't a BU student that can't spell "Massachusetts." The whole thing smells kind of like a class project.

@ Denali:

Please try to read closely. Did I say that the report was alarmist? No (although it might be). Was I complaining about the report itself? No. What I DID say was that the graphic that accompanies the report is FACTUALLY INACCURATE, and is propagandistic. The report is about New England power plants. The picture is of something different.

You don't seem to get the concept of reporting vs. propaganda, and apparently you don't care. I have no problem with Shay reporting how much spent fuel is stored at NE nuclear power plants and even stating that in his opinion it's too much and/or dangerous. I will trust his facts, and recognize his opinion, and agree with it or disagree. That's completely different from using a graphic image that is factually false. That image as far as I can tell has absolutely nothing to do with any operating plant in New England. It's not even clear that it depicts any nuclear plant in New England, operating or not.

I'm sure Shay would agree that he wants to be factual, vs. propagandistic. You, on the other hand, seem to think it's perfectly fine to be inaccurate if it is useful to your alarmist ends. Nice.

When you say that it's okay to use a picture of 4 cone-shaped containment buildings because it's a classic design, because the goal is to make people be alarmed, you are a propagandist, not a journalist.

I guess in your view, if you're reporting on a Burlington murder suspect, it would be okay to accompany the story with a photo of Charles Manson, because he's a "classic" murderer, right? It will help alarm the readers.

Reporting on a Burlington city building? Use a photo of the Empire State Building. Reporting on the repairs to the Richmond Bridge? Use a picture of the Golden Gate. Writing an anti-war story on Afghanistan? Use a photo of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.

The graphic shows 4 classic cone-shaped containment buildings

Those aren't containment buildings. They are cooling towers.

Check out these infographics that show how dry casks work and where the spent-fuel pools are located.

The map contains several errors. 1) Yankee Rowe (#2 on the map) is located in Massachusetts very close to the Vermont border to the south of Readsboro, not in Connecticut. 2) Connecticut Yankee (#1 on the map) is located where the YRNPS marker (#2) is. 3) Maine Yankee (#4) is decommissioned, and so should not be listed under the "active" header.

Murphy: The picture appears to be the cooling towers at Pilgrim. See

Nobody should be alarmed. Atomic waste only comes in very small, extremely small, and almost unmeasureable amounts. I'd say all the nukular waste in New England is an extremely small amount!

First, I don't see those cooling towers in any of the below photos of Pilgrim. Is it possible that the news article you linked to is using stock file photos of conical cooling towers?

Second, I repeat: the graphic accompanying this report shows FOUR cooling towers grouped together. So, again, exactly which New England nuclear power plant is depicted in that graphic? And if it's not an actual depiction of any New England nuclear station, why is it there?

Third, if the report is about stored spent fuel, why are we showing cooling towers, instead of pools and dry casks? Because a photo of dry casks would not generate fear and alarm in the minds of viewers, but a graphic showing four steaming cooling towers does.

That's called propaganda.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Stuck in VT (VIDEOS)

Solid State (Music)

Mistress Maeve (Sex)

All Rights Reserved © Da Capo Publishing Inc. 1995-2012 | PO Box 1164, Burlington, VT 05402-1164 | 802-864-5684