WATERFORD — U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said Friday 200 communities nationwide have responded to requests for information about storing radioactive waste, but federal officials still have the daunting task of finding local officials to volunteer to take on spent nuclear rods.
In a visit to the Millstone Power Station in Waterford and the State Pier in New London, Granholm said federal officials “want to continue to use these plants” and must figure out what to do with spent nuclear rods.
The Department of Energy is reviewing responses to a request for information it issued to nuclear industry stakeholders in December 2021 as a first step in another attempt to figure out how and where to store the highly-radioactive, spent uranium that is the waste product of nuclear energy production.
“A lot of communities raised their hand and said, ‘Yes, we are excited to have a nuclear plant,’” Granholm told reporters. “But they didn’t all volunteer to host the waste.
“There are communities that are willing to engage in that conversation. “We got about 200 responses from communities, not all of them saying we want to raise [our] hand.”
Asked if any volunteered, Granholm said, “Let’s just say people are willing to engage in a conversation.”
The Department of Energy will issue another request for information later this year, and the process will take a “couple of years” and will call for compensation to communities for storage of radioactive waste.
Connecticut has been living more than half a century with what was supposed to have been temporary spent fuel storage.
“That was not the deal when the plant was built 50 years ago,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, who invited Granholm to visit the Connecticut sites.
Waterford First Selectman Rob Brule said town residents expect the federal government to keep its word dating to the early days of Millstone and store nuclear waste elsewhere.
”We’re one of the first local communities to adjust to nuclear waste in town,” he said. “We knew there would be some risks and unknowns associated with that.”
The plant is the biggest taxpayer in Waterford, paying $35 million a year in property taxes, Brule said.
Granholm toured the nuclear plant, taking questions just yards from rows of reinforced concrete containers holding spent rods. The first were stored in 2005 and will remain until the federal government finds an alternative.
Congress has authorized $40 million over two years for the Department of Energy to work with communities to find takers of nuclear waste, and the agency has requested $53 million in the next budget, Courtney said.
A planned burial site for nuclear rods in Yucca Mountain in Nevada has been halted due to local opposition, and federal officials are now using a “consent-based” process to find a solution.
The issue of where to store nuclear waste is taking on more urgency as federal and state officials look to boost nuclear power to achieve targets for reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Granholm said nuclear power is important to reach the goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035, which was set by President Joe Biden.
Millstone comprises 40% of electricity generated in Connecticut and 90% of non-greenhouse gas sources of energy.
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Granholm visited the State Pier to highlight another energy alternative to carbon: a $236 million project that will upgrade and enlarge the site to accommodate wind turbine assembly before the towers are towed out to the Atlantic Ocean.
She could not escape a question about the painful rise in energy prices that are contributing to the highest rate of inflation since the early 1980s. It’s become a political problem for Democrats seeking to keep or expand their thin majorities in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.
Granholm, a former Democratic governor of Michigan, was joined in New London by Connecticut’s all-Democratic leadership: Gov. Ned Lamont, U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and Courtney.
Granholm blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for rising energy prices.
“We are in a crisis now because barrels are pulled off the market by Putin’s war on Ukraine,” she said.
She and Connecticut’s leaders said the upending of energy markets because of the war that began in late February demonstrates the need to step up zero-carbon energy production to achieve independence from unstable overseas sources.
Stephen Singer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.