JACKSON – Communities in Mississippi have expressed a preliminary interest in storing nuclear waste on an interim basis and reprocessing it, members of the Senate Economic Development Committee were told Monday.
“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.
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.
But Dean and Patrick Sullivan, the director of the Energy Institute, said now there is a belief that because of a change in attitude on the federal level and technological advances that instead of permanently storing all nuclear waste in geological formations there might be an opportunity to reprocess it and use it in other nuclear power plants or even for medical purposes.
While current federal law does not allow for reprocessing, Dean said the Energy Institute wants Mississippi to have the option to vie for an interim storage/reprocessing center if the U.S. Congress changes the law.
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.
Dean conceded it could be years – if ever – before the federal law allows such a process to occur. Dean also said under current federal law the Yucca Mountain in Nevada has been designated as the permanent repository for the nuclear waste.
But the Obama administration has balked at moving forward with the site, which was selected in 1987. Currently, with no permanent site for storage, Dean said 70,000 metric tons of nuclear waste are being stored above ground across the nation, including at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Plant in southwest Mississippi.
With the Obama administration balking at the Nevada site, many fear the salt domes in Richton might again be under consideration with the backing of the state’s Energy Institute. Sullivan said while his group did a study looking at the possibility of geological storage in Mississippi, the proposal he wants to discuss with Mississippi leaders is the possibility of an interim storage/reprocessing plant in the state.
He said he has discussed the possibility with several community leaders who, while not embracing the idea, did not reject it.
But Stan Flynt, a Jackson lobbyist who worked against making the salt domes the permanent location in the 1980s, said reprocessing technology “is extremely unsafe and unclear.”
Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley questioned the wisdom of Mississippi offering to store nuclear waste from across the nation.
“This will absolutely kill tourism in Mississippi,” he said. “I don’t want to see Mississippi become the nation’s repository for nuclear waste. It is a shame we have to spend time talking about this.”
Senate Economic Development Chairman John Horhn, D-Jackson, said the purpose of his meeting was to glean information so members would be knowledgeable on the issue if changes did occur on the federal level. He said he had not formed a position on the issue.