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Rancho Seco moving nuclear fuel rods to dry storage

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Posted: Tuesday, June 6, 2000 10:00 pm | Updated: 7:22 am, Tue Dec 4, 2012.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has its eyes on the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which plans to transfer 464,000 gallons of fuel stored in a pool at Rancho Seco in August to a dry storage area less than a quarter-mile away.

Moving the spent fuel into dry storage is a temporary move as SMUD waits for authorization to move the nuclear fuel to a permanent storage site. That won’t happen until about 2013, said Steve Redeker, who is in charge of decommissioning Rancho Seco, located on Highway 104 about 15 miles northeast of Galt.

U.S. Department of Energy officials say they hope to transport the nuclear fuel to Yucca Mountain, Nev., an isolated area about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. However, the federal government’s ability to send its nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain is on hold because of environmental concerns in Nevada.

SMUD and other agencies shouldn’t have started using nuclear power without already having a location to deposit the fuel once the plants are decommissioned, said Karen Pella, who lives on two acres less than a mile from Rancho Seco.

Anticipating community interest for the upcoming transfer of the 493 fuel rods from liquid storage to dry storage, SMUD officials conducted a tour on Saturday for 125 local residents, most of them from Herald. The regulatory commission will also conduct a community meeting June 20 in Galt.

Pella, who toured the plant Saturday, said she is confident in SMUD’s ability to move the nuclear fuel safely despite her opposition to nuclear power.

“I heard that dry storage is a lot safer than wet storage,” said Pella’s neighbor, Shirley Grennell, who has lived in Rancho Seco’s back yard for 32 years.

The main safety risk from a nuclear power plant, Redeker said, is melting fuel. However, the fuel at Rancho Seco isn’t hot enough to melt, he said. The fuel isn’t any hotter than six 100-watt light bulbs, he said.

Rancho Seco was built for $350 million in 1970 because of the United States’ concern about its dependence on foreign oil and because of the need to find an alternative to fossil fuel plants produced by coal and oil, Dennis Gardiner, a decommissioning team leader for SMUD, said in a January interview.

In an advisory ballot measure in June 1989, Sacramento County voters asked SMUD to shut down the plant, and the district’s board of directors immediately voted to shut it down.

“If it had been operating, I wouldn’t have purchased this property,” said Pella, who moved to the area a year ago from Portland, Ore. “Chernobyl comes to mind. Three Mile Island comes to mind.”

The 1979 Three Mile Island accident in central Pennsylvania was reported to be the worst nuclear accident in the United States. No one was injured, however.

However, 30 people were reported killed in the 1986 accident in Chernobyl, Russia.

It’s been 11 years since Rancho Seco was closed as the supplier of Sacramento County’s electricity, but the plant has yet to be decommissioned. It’s a long, tedious process.

Pella said she doesn’t expect any catastrophes in moving the nuclear fuel to dry storage because earthquakes aren’t common in the Sacramento Valley.

“Even when it was running (as a nuclear power plant), it never really bothered us,” Grennell said.

The Nuclear Energy Commission’s community meeting on the decommissioning of Rancho Seco is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 20 at the Chabolla Community Center, 630 Chabolla Ave., Galt.

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