Plant owner wants to hasten nuclear waste transfer

The shuttered Kewaunee Power Station nuclear plant is seen, May 9, 2014. (WLUK/Laura Smith)

TOWN OF CARLTON – A Kewaunee Nuclear Power Station official says workers may be able to remove spent nuclear fuel from the plant sooner than expected.

The plant closed down last year after its owner, Dominion, couldn't find a buyer.

Starting in 2015, fuel rod assemblies will be put into stainless steel casks and slid into eight empty concrete storage containers currently on the Kewaunee power plant property, as well as 24 that have yet to be built, on-site. Plant officials say all the fuel will be removed from the plant by the end of 2016.

"When I retired, the plant was still operating," said David Mielke, who retired from the plant three years ago.

"Just a few months short of 38 (years)," said the former control room supervisor at the plant.

Mielke lives a couple miles away from the plant. With its fate apparently sealed, Mielke says for the same to be done with its fuel.

"If the plant's not going to run, I want it in the absolute safest condition it can be in going forward,” said Mielke. “So, put it in dry cask storage and get on with life."

"We've found a way to empty the spent fuel pool about four years sooner than was in the original plan," said Dominion spokesman Mark Kanz.

Kanz says 110 employees will leave the plant this October, with 140 staying on until the fuel removal process is finished. Officials say not only could the sped-up fuel removal process mean cutting costs of facility maintenance, but also increase safety and security of the nuclear waste.

"That spent fuel pool is tied into just about every other building here, which meant that we weren't going to be able to put any kind of plans for demolition on the table until such time as the spent fuel was emptied."

Kanz says 40 concrete containers will be kept in a secure area, easing the security burden of two locations as it currently stands.

The question then becomes, what will happen to them? President George W. Bush's administration wanted spent nuclear fuel sent to an underground facility in Nevada. But an Obama administration panel suggested nationwide regional storage sites.

Dominion has 60 years to return the site to a greenfield.

"It's a business decision on their end," said Dave Hardtke, the chairman of the Town of Carlton.

Each year, the town received a payment from Dominion that covered the municipality's operating costs. But with the plant's closing, that payment will end. Residents recently approved a tax, collecting up to $500,000 from property owners.

“We never had a town tax to run the town," explained Hardtke. "So what the levy's going to be all depends on what happens with the power plant."

A final decision that could still be years away.