NEIS sponsors a week of activities against premature, hazardous radioactive waste transport through Illinois

NEIS hosted a week of events and activities in response to recent House Congressional legislation that would prematurely place hazardous high-level radioactive waste (HLRW) on our roads, build expensive and unnecessary HLRW storage facilities in Texas and New Mexico, and would reopen development of the flawed site at Yucca Mt., Nevada as the nation’s HLRW disposal repository.

Kevin Kamps, Beyond Nuclear

Kevin Kamps, radioactive waste specialist at Beyond Nuclear of Takoma Park, Maryland was the featured guest speaker at a number of events sponsored by NEIS in Chicago the week of November 12th.

Both Beyond Nuclear and NEIS are part of a national coalition of grassroots, environmental, anti-nuclear and environmental justice groups opposing the HLRW plans advocated in H.R. 3053, sponsored by Rep. John Shimkus (R., IL-15).  The bill – Amendments to the High-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act – passed the House in early 2018.  However, the Senate has not acted on the bill.  If the Senate does not take it up before Dec. 31st, 2018, the bill is dead and would have to be reintroduced into a now Democratic-controlled House in 2019.

The week got off to a poor start when both Sens. Richard Durbin and Tammy Duckworth declined to meet with Kamps and NEIS in Chicago before returning to the Senate for the year-end session. Read more

Written By Kari Lydersen, Energy News Network, July 13, 2018.

Members of Congress are scheduled to receive a briefing next week from nuclear energy experts and watchdogs on pending nuclear waste storage proposals and the decommissioning of nuclear plants that have closed or could soon. Among the organizers of the July 16 briefing and a related national lobby day is the Chicago-based Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS).

[Photo: An inflatable high-level radioactive waste cask at a protest against a proposed interim storage facility in New Mexico.]

Like advocates for communities with economies linked to coal, the NEIS is calling for a “just transition” for the neighbors of nuclear power plants. The coalition hosting the testimony notes that five nuclear plants have closed since 2013, “at least 10 more are expected to close in the next few years, including three owned by FirstEnergy,” and 16 are going through decommissioning – essentially remediation of waste and radiation.

Along with the economic impacts similar to those created when coal plants close, nuclear plant closings also usually mean nuclear waste is stored onsite for years to come. The federal government proposes to move this waste to a Consolidated Interim Storage site (CIS), until a long-term repository like the one long-proposed at Yucca Mountain is created. Sites in New Mexico and Texas are being concerned for CIS. Meanwhile Midwest nuclear watchdogs point to a study by Oak Ridge National Laboratory that found Illinois was theoretically an ideal site for CIS.

Nuclear Energy Information Service director Dave Kraft spoke with the Energy News Network before the Congressional briefing. The following interview was lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: How might Illinois be impacted by Consolidated Interim Storage, or long-term storage in Yucca Mountain?

We’ll be 100 percent impacted on the transportation issue – since as much as 80 percent of the high-level waste going to Yucca Mountain is expected to go through Illinois by rail or truck. And it’s possible there would be barge shipments of radioactive waste on Lake Michigan from [closed reactors in] Wisconsin and Michigan. Beyond that we don’t know about the wild card proposal that Illinois would be an ideal location for a CIS site, as the Oak Ridge study indicated. If the ones in Texas and New Mexico don’t work out, who knows what the rest of the short list would look like.

Q: Is nuclear being seen more and more as an environmental justice issue?

Nuclear has always been an environmental justice issue. It’s just that it gets overwhelmed by the more obvious ones in the fossil fuel industry. When you have coal mines that collapse and workers that get killed and black lung disease to contend with and coal ash ponds rupturing, that’s all pretty obvious stuff. But beyond the dramatic, the very subtle aspects of how nuclear communities are impacted are virtually the same as fossil fuels. You have the uranium industry contaminating water supplies in the Southwest, indigenous land. One of my colleagues, a Dine [Navajo] activist, said you might find an old coal miner, but you will never find an old uranium miner. They know first-hand what the impacts of uranium have been on their communities.

Whenever the industry needed a waste dump, one of the first places they’d turn would be a Native American tribe. When you have nothing and someone promises you money and jobs, what do you do? Now we have the fact that nuclear plants are closing and no one is talking about an exit plan.

Q: How about in the Midwest, is nuclear an environmental justice issue here?

Not so much in terms of indigenous tribes, but in terms of some of the communities affected. For one example, the Palisades reactor in Covert, Michigan, which has a [sizable low-income and] black community. When you have a nuclear facility and it closes and not only kills your economy, what does it do to the real estate market, are you able to sell your home? That transcends people of color and minorities, it’s truly a class and economic issue which is an environmental justice issue as well.

When you look at the rail routes that would be used for transporting these materials, you see they are virtually identical to the ones being pummeled by the oil train derailments – rural communities, communities that might not have a first-rate emergency responders program, the communities the rail industry abandoned a century ago. These are the folks in line to deal with any accidents that occur. And even through urban centers, you look where the rail routes go, largely through minority communities.

Q: There’s increasing focus on a just transition for coal communities, both coal mining areas and municipalities with coal-fired power plants. Is just transition a concept being pushed around nuclear too?

It’s just in its beginning stages. Legislators are finally waking up to the fact that it’s the same issue, just a different energy resource that has to be dealt with. They’re understanding with fossil fuels and nuclear, something has to be done proactively, communities have to be taken care of proactively. New York is grappling with it because of the closure of Indian Point – they’re seeing some of the problems with decommissioning, not having an oversight board and the issue of economic redevelopment. This is being examined, though it hasn’t gelled nationally yet. But we’re in the beginning stages of having a movement. On the select issue of orphaned waste, there is the national legislation Tammy Duckworth sponsored out there to deal with communities that are stuck with waste, that didn’t sign up 40 years ago to be a radioactive waste dump. [U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) is a co-sponsor of the The Stranded Act of 2017 (S. 1903), which would authorize $100 million over seven years to compensate communities storing high-level radioactive waste after reactors close.]

Q: So how do things look in Zion, Illinois, one of those towns dealing with a nuclear closed plant and orphaned waste?

Zion could easily become the national poster child of everything that could go wrong. When [then-owner] ComEd abruptly without any warning and unilaterally closed the Zion reactor in 1998, the community of Zion lost 75 percent of its tax base overnight. It lost a sizable portion of their workforce, and with a reduced tax base they had to raise taxes which drove businesses and people away, and caused a housing crisis in the sense of abandonments…and they’re still stuck with reactive waste. Not even Donald Trump is stupid enough to open a hotel next to that.

Q: What do you think should be done with nuclear waste in places like Zion?

Environmental groups came together in 2002 to come up with a national proposal for what should be done with radioactive waste, and that applies to Zion. First, stop making it. To begin with, our motto is don’t just do something, stand there. Safeguard it, use hardened on-site storage. That’s immediate, you have to do that now regardless of what happens. Protect the communities you have damaged, that’s an obligation. Number two, you do not invest in CIS in other states. All that does is create more waste sites that have to be abandoned and cleaned up, and that doubles the transportation problem, because you have to move it again if and when you get long-term disposal.

The third thing, Yucca Mountain is not a credible, valid and protective site for storage of highly radioactive nuclear waste. So you have to create a new process outside of politics, genuinely scientifically based [to find a different long-term storage site]. You’ll have to deal with the minefield of local consent later. But at least do the credible science first which never happened at Yucca Mountain.

Q: You’ve said before that you think the push for Consolidated Interim Storage is linked to nuclear generators’ push for supports from ratepayers, what critics call bailouts. How is that the case?

To us the linkage has been clear for years. It’s being played out now in public and rationalized in different ways. The industry is looking to be absolved of its past sin of not having a solution [for waste]. If it has a solution then it can keep running for years. The bailout is inextricably linked to the waste issue – the solution to one plays into the other.

Q: In Illinois, most environmental and clean energy groups ended up supporting the state’s energy law even though it included the supports for Exelon’s nuclear plants. But the Nuclear Energy Information Service opposed the bill to the end, and called for communities with closing power plants to be “bailed out” rather than the nuclear plants. What does that mean in practice? Who should be “bailing out” the communities – ratepayers, or companies?

In letters to Governor [Bruce] Rauner and 40 other legislators, we made the case it’s the communities that should be bailed out, not profitable corporations. There’s nothing in the state constitution that mandates the legislature guarantee the profits of a private company. Any community needs to have a piggy bank for a rainy day. To the extent the communities didn’t prepare [for possible plant closures], that’s partly on them. You’re going to have to have a really tough conversation with all the parties, and everyone is going to have to pony up into the fund. We have suggestions on ways to do that. Whether it is stated in law or not, the ethical and moral thing is that company-town employers have a bigger obligation to do something when they leave than a mom and pop store would. They come in with all kinds of promises that rarely are met and leave a big mess that doesn’t get cleaned up.

Q: In Illinois or nationally, do you maintain that nuclear plants are not in fact needed for energy security?

Absolutely not. We have a surplus of power, the grid is operating quite fine. We got through that Arctic plunge of a few years ago. While nuclear [proponents] brags about how available they were [during the Polar Vortex of 2014], no one looks into how available renewables were and they were quite available. We would posit that solar will be there for 3.5 billion years and beyond.

Q: What about wind, should Illinois’ Future Energy Jobs Act have done more to incentivize wind energy?

It was a tough legislative fight to get what we got. In retrospect, solar made out well and wind didn’t. Wind could have been more prolific and widespread [if the law emphasized it more], but it didn’t. Because realistically it was the main competitor to Exelon’s nuclear plants and no one wanted to take that on. You talk about resilience and reliability, a renewable infrastructure gives you the ability to incrementally add and subtract what you need, you can decide how many wind turbines to build or to run. With a nuclear plant you get 1000 megawatts or nothing.

S.1903 – The Stranded Act Of 2017

NEIS would like to commend IL Sen. Tammy Duckworth and IL Rep. Brad Schneider for introduction of S.1903 and H.R. 3970 respectively – the “Stranded Act of 2017;” and acknowledge State Sen. Melinda Bush and Zion Mayor Al Hill for their tireless efforts to obtain much deserved community compensation for the storage of 1,000+ tons of high-level radioactive waste (HLRW) in the community of Zion. Reactor communities nationwide which have become de facto high-level radioactive waste storage sites deserve some measure of economic and enhanced safety compensation for the continued risks they accept for being compelled to store this hazardous substance indefinitely, and for the negative economic consequences this storage brings to the communities.

The provisions found in Sen. Duckworth’s S.1903 are an excellent first step towards rectifying this economic injustice brought about by previous Congress’ indifference towards and politicization of the Nation’s high-level radioactive waste disposal problem. S.1903 wisely recognizes that the creation of “orphaned” HLRW through inevitable and unpredictable reactor closures is a national problem, requiring a uniform national solution.

As a commendable first step, S.1903 also realistically addresses the fact that ultimate, environmentally responsible HLRW disposal will continue to take time – if done properly, and not out of political expedience; and that these communities deserve compensation for conditions they did not create, but are forced to endure.

While an admirable first step addressing economics, NEIS hopes and urges that equally necessary subsequent actions will come from the Congress to protect our communities from continued HLRW abuse and potential radiologic accidents. While S.1903 addresses the economic harm done by de facto HLRW storage in a community, these communities equally need much better environmental protection for as long as the HLRW remains. Congress should next mandate “hardened on-site storage” (HOSS) for these dangerous materials to safeguard the public and environmental health and safety of these communities. Both the nuclear industry and the federal NRC vigorously resist this enhanced but deserved safety measure on the excuse of “cost.” In the case of Zion, for example, one wonders what the “cost” of replacing Lake Michigan – the drinking water supply for 16 million people – would be should a serious accident occur at the spent-fuel dry-cask pad that will remain in the Zion community for well beyond the 7 year period for economic compensation found in S.1903.

The temptation to want all spent-fuel to be quickly but imprudently moved out of reactor communities should not justify establishing expensive and alleged temporary “centralized interim storage” (CIS) facilities to take these wastes. Nor should that desire become the political rationalization to revisit re-opening of the now closed and demonstrably flawed Yucca Mt. site in Nevada. Both of these so-called “solutions” are driven more by political expediency than by sound public policy, environmental protection or science.

This nation truly needs a permanent deep-geological disposal facility for its high-level radioactive wastes. Contaminating new communities to establish alleged “temporary” storage sites, and opening a deficient Yucca Mt. facility do not serve the best long-term interests of the nation, only the short-term needs of the nuclear industry and its allies in public office. A new site selection process is needed to provide the best scientific solution to the spent-fuel problem. Playing musical chairs with the wastes, or sending it to a politically expedient hole in the ground somewhere “away” fails to provide this solution, and will only serve to delay opening a truly best solution for HLRW disposal.

 

 

ACTION ALERT!

If you believe in safe energy and a less-nuclear world, we ask you to take immediate action on two urgent issues described below.

Actions in Springfield  threaten to take away some of the hard-won renewable energy gains of the last year, as the proposed Gov. Rauner budget calls for “sweeping” dedicated renewable energy funds as part of his proposed budget balancing fix.

In Washington D.C. Rep. John Shimkus’ (R. IL-15) again proposes re-starting the flawed Yucca Mt. site in Nevada for the disposal of high-level radioactive waste (HLRW); and promote unnecessary private “centralized interim storage” (CIS) radwaste facilities in west Texas and southeastern New Mexico – over strong local objection.  While it’s tempting to want to get HLRW out of communities like Zion ASAP, prematurely sending it to flawed or unnecessary facilities like these is both dangerous and uneconomic; and increases the risks from transportation accidents in communities that have nothing to do with nuclear power and waste currently, while senselessly contaminating additional new sites around the nation that will ultimately have to be cleaned up.  This is simply dumb energy policy, designed to “unconstipate” the dying nuclear power industry at ratepayer and taxpayer expense.

 Please take these action steps listed below to oppose these dangerous and RE/EE-threatening plans.  You can find the “active links” for this Alert posted on the NEIS website homepage at www.neis.org

STOP THE RAUNER SWEEPS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY FUNDS:

This in from our friends and colleagues at the Illinois Environmental Council:

Governor Rauner has called state legislators into special session from June 21 to June 30 to address the state’s budget crisis.  The Governor has endorsed the Senate Republican budget plan that would “sweep” hundreds of millions of dollars from clean energy and conservation funds.

We need to oppose this newly introduced budget for several important reasons:

Clean Energy Programs Would Be Devastated.

Last December, legislators with the Governor’s support passed the Future Energy Jobs Act.  A critical piece of this law was the designation of approximately $185 million remaining in the state’s Renewable Energy Resources Fund (RERF) to be used for the Illinois Solar for All Program.  Legislators committed that the RERF dollars would be used to ensure that new solar development would occur in economically disadvantaged communities and a training pipeline would be set up to provide solar  jobs in these areas.  The Senate GOP proposal (SB 2217) would sweep every dollar from this program.  Incredibly, less than a year after creating the Illinois Solar for All Program, the legislature would take the RERF funds and end the program.

IEC and the organizations we represent understand that Illinois is facing a serious budget crisis and the legislature must move decisively to solve this problem.  However, a budget solution should be sustainable. Relying on one-time fund transfers is not sustainable and sets the state up for another year of deficit spending.  By using fund sweeps, the state would be “robbing Peter to pay Paul” – funding some programs by devastating others.

Take action here to ask legislators to pass a budget the protects the Future Energy Jobs Act and leaves special funds alone! ( to get the contact info for your state legislators, go to

http://www.elections.il.gov/districtlocator/addressfinder.aspx ).

STOP THE SHIMKUS HIGH-LEVEL RADIOACTIVE WASTE CON-JOB

Contact your U.S. Representative ASAP! Oppose the Mobile Chernobyl U.S. House bill before the full House Energy & Commerce Committee

Last week, U.S. Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), succeeded in rushing his “Screw Nevada” Yucca Mountain high-level radioactive waste dump legislation through the Environment and Economy Subcommittee he chairs.  Now the bill moves on to the full U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee. Full committee markup is currently expected to take place Wed., June 28th.

If passed there, it would then move on to the full House floor for consideration. If ultimately passed into law, H.R.3053, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017, would launch unprecedented thousands of truck, train, and/or barge shipments of irradiated nuclear fuel, through 45 states, bound for Nevada. These shipments would pass through the heart of many major cities. They would pass through 370 of the 435 congressional districts in the U.S.!

Each shipment represents a potential Mobile Chernobyl, Floating Fukushima, or Dirty Bomb on Wheels risk, whether due to severe accident or intentional attack. Even “routine” or “incident-free” shipments have been called “Mobile X-ray machines that can’t be turned off,” given the hazardous gamma radiation they would emit, and expose persons to, who get too close (as by living along the shipping route, getting stuck next to a shipment in traffic, etc.).

Please take action and contact your U.S. Representative via the Capitol Switchboard, (202) 225-3121, or look up your U.S. Representative’s direct office phone number, fax number, web form/email, and/or snail mail (enter your ZIP and click <GO> in upper right corner, then follow the links to your Representative’s website, and contact info. posted there). Urge your U.S. Representative to block this dangerous legislation, by voting against it and urging their U.S. House colleagues to do the same.

The bill would also expedite the opening of centralized interim storage sites for radioactive waste in Texas and/or New Mexico, multiplying Mobile Chernobyl risks. And Energy Secretary Rick Perry just dropped a bombshell proposal this week, at a U.S. House hearing, to also do interim storage at the Nevada Nuclear Weapons Test Site, before ultimately burying the wastes at Yucca, all against the state’s will, without its consent. For more background information and actions, see our Yucca Mountain website section.