For decades, nuclear waste, the highly radio-active by-product of nuclear power, has been stored in 40 foot deep pools at nuclear plants. That was always meant to be a temporary solution, but decades later, a permanent one has not been found. As our Candace Hopkins reports, now those plants are being forced to find new ways to store their waste, including Oswego County's Nine Mile facility.
OSWEGO COUNTY, N.Y. -- Like every other nuclear plant in the country, Nine Mile has been using an Olympic-size pool to hold its nuclear waste since the first of two units was built in 1969. But now that pool has filled up and like dozens of other plants, Nine Mile has been forced to find a new place to store the waste.
"The installation of interim dry cask fuel storage at our Nine Mile Nuclear Plant Station is going to safely allow us to store this fuel here on an interim basis," said Jill Lyon, Constellation Energy Spokesperson.
Meaning the plant will be moving that waste to on site outdoor concrete storage modules, a delicate process the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will be closely monitoring.
"You are dealing with high-level radioactive waste. Again, if there were to be any sort of exposure to it, it would be lethal if you're in close proximity," said Neil Sheehan, Public Affairs Officer for the Nuclear Regulator Commission.
Which is why staff at Nine Mile are now undergoing intense training to prepare.
Lyon said, "The workers will be conducting both classroom type of training to understand the scope of the work and go through the procedures and become familiar with the procedure steps and then they'll actually do dry runs before actually moving the fuel into the canisters."
And while moving nuclear waste sounds dangerous, NRC officials say dozens of other plants have been using this method for decades without incident, including the nearby FitzPatrick plant.
"There have not been any accidents where any workers have been injured or killed certainly using these systems, but these are big casks. When they are fully loaded, they weigh nearly 100 tons, so they have to exercise great caution when they're dealing with this kind of material," Sheehan said.
NRC officials say the federal government is searching for a permanent storage site for nuclear waste, but in the meantime, it will need to remain at each of the 68 nuclear plant sites located throughout the county, including the two here in Oswego County.
Currently about three dozen nuclear plants throughout the country are using a dry cask storage method to contain their nuclear waste and the NRC says several more are in the process of transitioning to this method.