Developers: Region not on radar for nuclear waste

David Rumbarger

David Rumbarger

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.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com

  • williambova

    Three take-aways from this article: First, it is rather obvious that Representative Alan Nunnelee is politically tone-deaf and completely out of touch with the people he represents in NE Mississippi. Second, seems as though he does not have any time to travel his district during his five week summer vacation and hold any public and town hall meetings with the folks that pay him, but has plenty of time to hang-out in Jackson, MS at secret back-room meetings with lobbyists for Austin Barbour and Phil Bryant to discuss dumping nuclear waste on Mississippians. Third, apparently Gary Matthews, Executive Director of the Tishomingo County Development Foundation is also tone-deaf to the citizens that pay him if he actually thinks that dumping nuclear waste in his area, or anywhere in the state for that matter, is, to quote him, “I think this is much ado about nothing,” He must have a giant picture on his desk holding hands with Barbour and Bryant.

  • DoubleTalk

    Place the nuclear waste around CDF and Tupelo City Hall. That way they can become the “glowing” entities they so much desire. The Dome could be seen for miles and even outer space.

  • FrereJocques

    I have refrained from commenting on this subject. Until now.

    Having read the many comments made, I simply cannot sit by quietly while so much false information is stated and irrational fears bandied about.

    I do not want to personally criticize people, but those of you who think that nuclear waste storage and processing is unavoidably deadly, and will cause everyone around it to start glowing in the dark, you are absolutely ignorant on this topic. You know nothing about which you are speaking. You have listened to the insane ravings of the fringe lunatic environmentalist wacko crowd, who have pulled out all the stops in spreading lies, rumors, half-truths and slander about nuclear power and its waste products, and you have swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.

    The Mississippi Energy Institute is right: The industry of storing and reprocessing spent nuclear fuel would land many, many jobs in MS. And these would be HIGH-PAYING jobs; only well-educated, highly trained workers would be involved. No Mickey D size paychecks.

    Now some facts and logic. When they store nuclear waste, what do you think they do with it? Do you really think they just pour it out on the ground and walk away? Pump it down an old well? Put it in a ditch and cover it over with a layer of dirt like a landfill? Put it in old 55-gallon steel drums, paint a yellow triangle on it and store it in a warehouse?

    NONE OF THOSE THINGS!

    Nuclear waste is stored in containers or casks that have been specifically designed for the purpose. They are made of combinations of concrete, special steel or metal, and other materials that I am probably not aware of that have been designed to contain the material inside them for the foreseeable future. This means HUNDREDS, IF NOT THOUSANDS, OF YEARS! They are designed to withstand vibrations, impacts, water, fire, pressure, and any other substance or event that could impact them. In other words, the stuff inside those casks are not going anywhere until someone opens them up and takes it out deliberately.

    You should also understand that the vast majority of nuclear waste is what is called “Low Level” waste. Things that have become contaminated with SMALL amounts of radioactivity while working around nuclear material. Things like work gloves. Smocks. Shoe liners. Hand tools. Rags used to wipe up small spills. The level of radioactivity in most of these things would only cause harm to a person if exposed indefinitely, and cause no harm at all on a short-term exposure. So even if a cask were somehow broken open, and its contents spilled, there’s no significant danger to anyone of the general public.

    You would be exposed to far more radiation by flying on a jet plane, or from a Dental X-Ray, than from being near a nuclear storage facility.

    Liquid waste is turned into a glass-like material, which, if spilled, will simply be solid material that can be cleaned up, and won’t soak into the ground, or floor, or flow into the water system.

    Reprocessing nuclear fuel is currently forbidden, thanks to former President Jimmy “Peanuts for Brains” Carter. But logic and need will soon lead to the overturn of this ban, I firmly believe. Mississippians would do well to be ready, able, and willing to take advantage of this when it occurs.

    • Thile

      Good points, Frere, but we simply cannot ignore the risks. Look what happened in states like Washington and New York. Do those nuke sites pose significant risks to the public?

    • DoubleTalk

      I wish disposal of nuclear waste was that simple. It isn’t. You did not mention the fuel rods which are encased in containers such as you described. Not low level stuff. No one really knows the shelf life or life of the containers. Heck it hasn’t been around that long so speculation of hundreds and thousands of years is just that…speculation.

      If you have ever been on a nuclear site and endured the precautions taken you would have a deep respect for nuclear energy, if not a fear. They don’t monitor folks going in and out of just the facility for no reason at all. I’ve seen the containers.

      The funny thing about nuclear is many folks claim they want it…..just not around their house.

      • FrereJocques

        In a way you are correct. Kind of hard to know exactly how long something will last if one has never worn out :)

        The extreme precautions you mention at nuclear sites actually goes to prove my point: Safety and health of people
        is the highest concern these days. You might note that, in spite of all the testing and checking, no one
        is being contaminated. Trust me, if they were, we would hear about it from the wackos.

        I’ve never been inside a nuclear power plant, although I’ve wanted to. And I DO have a deep
        respect for nuclear energy. But not fear.

        If one were to ask, yes, I would be willing to live near a nuclear power plant, and especially
        a storage facility. Several reasons: 1. I’m not afraid of it; 2. Since no one else wants to live there, real estate prices
        will probably be low; 3. Low crime. Security around that facility will be tight.

    • FrereJocques

      I’m not sure where you are talking about in New York. In Washington (State, I assume), I figure you are probably talking about the Hanford Site.
      Hanford was built during WWII. At the time, being in a state of war,
      developing nuclear weapons was a higher priority than concern for the health and well-being of the workers or the surrounding area. That is not the case now.
      There is a world of difference between procedures then and procedures now.
      The top priorities now are the health and safety of the workers, citizens, and the environment. The storage methods used at Hanford would never be allowed today.
      We have learned many lessons from what happened at Hanford, and other places such as Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and from more recent disasters such as the
      Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

      To answer your direct question, yes, the Hanford site poses significant risks to the general public. But would the Yucca Mountain site pose
      any risks if it were allowed to be finished and operated? No. The site was carefully picked by experts to be the safest place in the nation to store nuclear waste.
      There is no significant seismic activity there; no volcanoes, no nearby rivers or flood plains, and being deep underground a tornado would have no effect
      at all. The main problem with Yucca Mountain is political. The afore-mentioned environmental wackos are in full throat opposition, because they know that if
      ANY storage site for nuclear waste is approved, their cause is lost. Nevada senator Harry Reid needs to grow a set and call these wackos out
      for who they are and for the good of the country. He is not looking out for the nation’s best interest; he is looking out only for himself. He has undoubtedly counted
      the votes for and against Yucca Mountain, which includes those who have drank the Kool-Aid of the enviro wackos, and he understands that
      if he voted for Yucca Mountain, there is a good chance he could lose his seat in the Senate. So much for putting the national interest above your own.

      I didn’t talk about fuel rods, because they are a small physical amount compared to the low-level waste, albeit by far the most dangerous. But we need to
      find a place to put these too, because the storage pools at nuclear power plants are getting full, and off-site storage will soon become a necessity. And besides,
      these would be the first items to be re-processed if the procedure is eventually approved.

      There is NOTHING that mankind sets his hand to do that is totally safe and risk-free. If we want to live fuller, more modern lives, better than our children,
      then some risks have to be taken. Pick any commercial or industrial category. ALL of them have had more people injured and killed than the nuclear power industry.

    • Winston Smith

      I don’t think storing or reprocessing nuclear waste is inherently deadly, however, the potential for disaster is too great. First there’s the issue of transporting the waste through our state, imagine if that 18-wheeler that crashed through the overpass by the mall had been full of nuclear waste? Also we have tornadoes and floods in Mississippi, the Fukashima reactor was perfectly safe until it was hit by a tsunami, and now Japan is being steadily poisoned and they can’t stop it. And even with all the oversight that comes with nuclear waste there’s still the potential for human error. While it would create good jobs, the potential risk is too great in my opinion to allow it.

    • Winston Smith

      I don’t think storing or reprocessing nuclear waste is inherently deadly, however, the potential for disaster is too great. First there’s the issue of transporting the waste through our state, imagine if that 18-wheeler that crashed through the overpass by the mall had been full of nuclear waste? Also we have tornadoes and floods in Mississippi, the Fukashima reactor was perfectly safe until it was hit by a tsunami, and now Japan is being steadily poisoned and they can’t stop it. And even with all the oversight that comes with nuclear waste there’s still the potential for human error. While it would create good jobs, the potential risk is too great in my opinion to allow it.

    • Winston Smith

      I don’t think storing or reprocessing nuclear waste is inherently deadly, however, the potential for disaster is too great. First there’s the issue of transporting the waste through our state, imagine if that 18-wheeler that crashed through the overpass by the mall had been full of nuclear waste? Also we have tornadoes and floods in Mississippi, the Fukashima reactor was perfectly safe until it was hit by a tsunami, and now Japan is being steadily poisoned and they can’t stop it. And even with all the oversight that comes with nuclear waste there’s still the potential for human error. While it would create good jobs, the potential risk is too great in my opinion to allow it.

    • Winston Smith

      I don’t think storing or reprocessing nuclear waste is inherently deadly, however, the potential for disaster is too great. First there’s the issue of transporting the waste through our state, imagine if that 18-wheeler that crashed through the overpass by the mall had been full of nuclear waste? Also we have tornadoes and floods in Mississippi, the Fukashima reactor was perfectly safe until it was hit by a tsunami, and now Japan is being steadily poisoned and they can’t stop it. And even with all the oversight that comes with nuclear waste there’s still the potential for human error. While it would create good jobs, the potential risk is too great in my opinion to allow it.