WISCASSET — A bill working its way through Congress could compensate the Town of Wiscasset $8.1 million a year between 2018 and 2024 – a total of $48.6 million – for the continuous storage of nuclear waste.

Proposed by U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) and U.S. Representative Brad Schneider (D-Illinois), the Sensible, Timely Relief for America’s Nuclear Districts’ Economic Development (STRANDED) Act would compensate all cities and town across the country for the long-term storage of nuclear waste inside town boundaries.

Wiscasset has been storing nuclear waste produced by the decommissioned Maine Yankee for decades.

The bill would compensate towns with $15 per kilogram of waste stored. Currently, Maine Yankee stores 542 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel, which sits in massive 150 ton concrete casks on Bailey Peninsula.

Duckworth and Schneider announced the bill in Zion, Illinois, a town that has been storing over 1,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel for years.

“For years communities have been forced to house this waste without consent or compensation, despite the immeasurable negative impact to their local economies,” said Duckworth.

“Since the federal government has failed to open a permanent repository and it could take years to move the waste after one is agreed upon, the STRANDED Act will help affected areas around the country that are facing hardship now. Communities like Zion can’t wait any longer.”

Federal compensation for nuclear waste storage isn’t new. Maine Yankee, which maintains what were intended to be temporary storage facilities, has been continually suing the federal government since 1998 after the Department of Energy failed to produce a permanent storage solution.

“Maine Yankee, through the first three phases of litigation, has recovered approximately $142.1 million,” said Eric Howes, spokesman for Maine Yankee. “Phase four litigation, we’re seeking approximately $35 million.”

Storing the spent fuel onsite requires millions of dollars a year in facility maintenance and security. It also leaves Bailey Peninsula off limits to all but authorized personnel.

Originally, the federal government planned to store all nuclear waste at a facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. That plan fell through, leaving communities across the country with large stores of nuclear waste and nowhere to transport.

The problem likely won’t be resolved any time soon. The Department of Energy’s 2013 plan states that any sort of geological repository like Yucca Mountain won’t be around for decades. It calls for “demonstrable progress on the siting and characterization of repository sites,” by 2048.

There may be some hope, however. Howes said the current administration seems to be at least looking into potential storage.

“One change is that the Trump administration is seeking money in both the 2018 budget and 2019 budget, $120 million, to resume the Yucca Mountain project,” said Howes.

An additional $10 million may be earmarked to look into two private proposals, one in Texas and one in New Mexico, which could also store the waste.

However, the obstacle as always would be getting any bill past Congress. “Congress has not appropriated any money since 2010,” Howes said. “The impasse that we talked about in the past persists, unfortunately.”

For Wiscasset, the $48 million would be a boon, but the goal has always been complete removal.

“The town’s goal has always been to have the waste removed from the community,” said Town Manager Marian Anderson. “But in lieu of that, to receive the $8 million would be very important to the town’s well being.”

The loss of Maine Yankee, which was a significant taxpayer and employer in town, is still affecting the economy years later. But public safety comes before any money, said Anderson.

“The redevelopment of that area would be of great economic importance, but that’s secondary to having the nuclear waste removed,” she said. “The community’s health and safety, that’s remained the town’s focus.”

 

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