Used nuclear fuel to be put in bunkers Calvert Cliffs faced with storage crisis

December 08, 1992|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Staff Writer

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. workers will soon begin putting highly radioactive waste in "temporary" storage in concrete bunkers beside the utility's Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant overlooking the Chesapeake Bay.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the used nuclear fuel will eventually find a permanent home elsewhere, as the utility hopes, or will remain in Calvert County.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a license Nov. 25 authorizing BG&E to begin using its $24 million storage facility.

A storage crisis looms at the twin-reactor plant, which supplies 40 percent of Central Maryland's electricity.

BG&E now stores spent nuclear fuel rods inside Calvert Cliffs in a pool of boron-enriched water. But the pool can hold only 1,830 rods, and it contains 1,410 rods already, said Karl Neddenien, a BG&E spokesman. Without more storage space, the utility would have run out of room for its fuel rods and might have been forced to shut down Calvert Cliffs, he said.

BG&E may begin shifting some of its spent fuel rods from the pool to the 48 concrete bunkers this month, Mr. Neddenien said. However, the inauguration of the new storage vaults could be delayed until early next year, he said, to prevent anything from complicating a planned refueling of Unit 2 in mid-February.

The concrete "modules," or bunkers approved by the NRC should be able to hold all the fuel rods used by the two reactors for the next 25 years, Mr. Neddenien said. The NRC license, however, expires in the year 2012. BG&E hopes that the federal government well before then will have developed a permanent national repository for high-level nuclear waste. The utility already has paid $150 million toward that project, Mr. Neddenien said.

But federal plans for storing spent fuel at Yucca Mountain in Nevada have run into political opposition and technical problems. That project and other government plans for a storage site are years behind schedule. Nuclear power critics warn that "temporary" storage facilities like BG&E's could become permanent burial vaults for radioactive waste.

The Maryland Safe Energy Coalition contends that there are many unsolved problems with storing high-level nuclear waste above ground. "There is no guarantee that the spent fuel will be retrievable after so many years," said Richard Ochs, a spokesman for the group.

But BG&E's Mr. Neddenien said, "We're clearly considering this a temporary storage facility. And we expect the government to live up to its promise."

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