By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Northeast Mississippi does not appear to be under consideration as a site for the reprocessing of hazardous nuclear waste should the state pursue the controversial industry.
At least that was the thought of Northeast Mississippi economic developers who said they had not been contacted about the potential industry.
“We have not had any conversations whatsoever,” said David Rumbarger, chief executive officer of the Lee County-based Community Development Foundation.
Randy Kelley, executive director of the Three Rivers Planning and Development District, which includes much of Northeast Mississippi, said he thought if anything happened on the issue it would be in other parts of the state. He said he had one brief conversation with a legislator about the issue, but nothing else.
Last week the Mississippi Energy Institute briefed legislators and other state officials about the possibility of the state vying to be a location where nuclear waste is stored on an interim basis and eventually reprocessed.
“You are talking about thousands of jobs, billions of dollars of investment. We want to have a conversation,” Jason Dean, a private consultant representing the Mississippi Energy Institute, said of the proposal.
Dean and Patrick Sullivan, director of the Energy Institute, said some Mississippi communities have expressed interest in the potential new industry. They cited southwest Mississippi as an area where there might be some interest.
Waste from Grand Gulf nuclear power plant near Port Gibson already is stored there. A federal ban on the reprocessing of commercial nuclear waste is in place, but Sullivan said because of the changing technology and changing attitude on the industry there is a possibility that ban could be lifted.
Gov. Phil Bryant has said he is interested in learning more about the industry. And published reports in other media outlets revealed that he toured a nuclear waste reprocessing facility in France earlier this summer.
Jordan Russell, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee, a Tupelo Republican, said after Nunnelee met with the Energy Institute behind closed doors last week, “Congressman Nunnelee believes we should set the goal of being energy secure within a decade and that developing American energy creates American jobs. Nuclear is absolutely part of an all-of-the-above strategy. He is also interested in learning more about how Mississippi’s economy can benefit from new technologies, which is why he attended the meeting.”
Other elected officials, such as Republican U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo of the Gulf Coast and Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, said they are not interested in the industry for Mississippi because of all the nuclear waste that would be brought into the state from across the nation.
Presley, who has been especially vocal on the issue, said the Energy Institute officials requested a meeting with him. He said he would only agree to a public meeting, which they refused.
While politicians posture on the volatile issue, area economic developers said they are still trying to learn about it.
“I am trying to investigate it,” said Gary Chandler, president of the Alliance, based in Alcorn County.
Northeast Mississippi has dabbled a little in nuclear energy. In the 1970s and ’80s, the Tennessee Valley Authority was building a nuclear power plant at Yellow Creek in Tishomingo County. But that plant was mothballed before it was completed.
Many of the buildings remain and it is currently an industrial site where about 400 people are employed in various industries – many high-tech. Gary Matthews, executive director of the Tishomingo County Development Foundation, said he doubts those structures would be conducive to converting to a nuclear waste reprocessing plant, and besides, he has not been contacted about the issue.
“I think this is much ado about nothing,” he said.
The issue of disposing of the nuclear waste generated by the nation’s power plants has been an ongoing dilemma. At one point in the 1980s, the salt dome near Richton in southeast Mississippi was viewed as a prime location to permanently store the radioactive waste.
Currently, the Yucca Mountain in Nevada has been designated as the permanent repository for the nuclear waste, but thus far it has not been used.
Sullivan of the Energy Institute says reprocessing technology could cut down on the need for permanent storage space. A study by the Energy Institute said such a process could generate average employment of about 4,000 jobs and peak employment during about eight years of construction of more than 15,000 jobs.