Environmentalists oppose Callaway Energy Center extension

Saturday, March 22, 2014 | 5:10 p.m. CDT

FULTON — A Missouri environmental group is urging federal regulators to hold off on issuing a 20-year extension for a central Missouri nuclear power plant until questions about future storage of fuel rods are answered.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission conducted public meetings in Fulton on Wednesday to discuss the first draft of an environmental impact statement for Ameren Missouri's Callaway Energy Center, the Fulton Sun reported.

The report is connected to Ameren's December 2011 application for a 20-year extension to its current 40-year operating license that expires in 2024.

The Callaway plant has had only a small impact on land use, air quality and other environmental areas, NRC environmental project manager Carmen Fells said Wednesday.

The report also concludes that alternative energy sources such as natural gas, coal, wind energy and other nuclear options are either too expensive or insufficient to meet the energy needs the Callaway plant provides, she said.

The Missouri Coalition for the Environment responded that the NRC report is flawed and "underestimates the risk of environmental damages."

The group's biggest concern was that the Callaway plant's deep storage pool where spent fuel rods are placed for five to 10 years before being moved to dry storage is expected to reach its capacity in 2020.

As nuclear fuel is used and irradiated in a reactor, the radioactive rods left behind are stored on-site in deep pools of water that the NRC says cools the fuel and shields workers from radiation.

"I'm curious what the plan is for six years from now," said Ed Smith, the environmental coalition's director. "They're not going to have a national repository for spent fuel ready in six years, I guarantee that."

The NRC also was basing its spent fuel storage standards on outdated research conducted before large-scale fallout events such as the Fukushima nuclear disaster caused by the 2011 tsunami in Japan, Smith said.

NRC spokeswoman Lara Uselding said Ameren is studying two plans for storage methods it could adopt when the pool reaches capacity, including dry storage.

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