Massive containers hold spent nuclear fuel at a dry storage facility. This photo shows, at right, a dry cask recently loaded with spent fuel being lifted from a horizontal transporter to be placed vertically on a specially-designed storage pad. (Flickr Creative Commons/Sandia National Laboratories)

Wyoming legislative leadership voted by email Monday to explore temporarily storing spent nuclear fuel rods in the state, a prospect one senator says could bring in $1 billion a year.

A legislative committee has appointed six of its members to investigate the idea with the U.S. Department of Energy, Sen. Jim Anderson (R-Casper) told WyoFile on Friday. Anderson is co-chairman of the Joint Minerals Business and Economic Development Committee which received approval and funding from the Legislative Management Council in an unannounced vote to study the issue before the next legislative session begins in early 2020.

Wyoming’s dependence on an ailing coal industry spurred talk about pursuing the temporary storage idea, Anderson said. Fuel rods would be housed in casks with two-foot-thick walls, he said.

“We’re losing a lot of revenue off coal,” he said. ‘We’ve got a huge problem,” with the state budget. 

Blackjewel LLC, the owner of two coal mines outside Gillette, shut their gates last week amid bankruptcy turmoil, putting some 600 miners out of work. In addition to the lost jobs, Wyoming could miss out on taxes if the mines don’t reopen, accelerating an already bleak decline in state revenues from that industry.

The state is looking for other revenue options, Anderson said, and “this is a way.” The federal government could pay up to $1 billion a year for the temporary storage, he said, depending on the size and scope of a Wyoming project. That’s the amount the federal government offered last time Wyoming considered the issue about 15 years ago, he said.

Anderson couldn’t immediately name the six members who serve on the subcommittee that will engage DOE, but he said it’s unlikely the group would report at the next minerals committee meeting in August. More likely there would be a presentation in November, he said.

Just the facts

The committee and sub-group will “just explore the facts,” Anderson said. He expects the sub-committee to have one or two meetings with DOE officials.

After that, the minerals committee could fashion a bill that would enable a state agency to pursue a project, he said. But much has to be discovered.

Sen. Jim Anderson (R-Casper)

“We’ll take this slow, get information first,” Anderson said. 

Spent nuclear fuel rods are currently being stored at nuclear plants — some of which are in residential neighborhoods, Anderson said. Rural Wyoming makes more sense as a temporary storage site, he said.

The U.S. is the only country that prohibits the reprocessing of the fuel rods, Anderson said. “If the federal government didn’t block that, we could reuse them.”

The spent fuel rod casks would be temporarily stored in Wyoming on their way to a permanent storage site at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. They were to be sent there two years ago, Anderson said, but the facility hasn’t earned the necessary approval.

The Wyoming effort is specific regarding fuel rods only, he said. “There’s nothing here about storing nuclear waste,” Anderson said. Storage might be for 5-10 years, he said.

Outside the casks, “there’s no radiation,” he said. In contrast, old uranium mine sites in the Shirley Basin and Gas Hills register naturally on Geiger counters, he said.

The casks would be “cleaner than the natural atmosphere in these locations,” Anderson said.

The old uranium sites are out of the way, Anderson said.

“Nobody will ever see it,” he said of a storage site. “Nobody even knows where it is,” he said of the locations at Gas Hills and the Shirley Basin. “They’ll never see it and there’s no danger from the casks.”

Wyoming might have to build some infrastructure, he said, like a fence around the casks. The state could offer both the old mine sites, he said, potentially increasing revenue.

“Environmental terrorists” sure to object

 Wyoming’s previous attempts to bring some types of nuclear storage to the state were blocked by environmental groups, Anderson said.

During an earlier effort to bring nuclear material to Wyoming “the environmental terrorists came out against it and stopped it in its tracks,” he said. That opposition likely remains. 

“I think they’ll be back terrorizing us again,” Anderson said.

Wyoming people will likely welcome such a project, Anderson said, given the potential $1 billion or more annual revenue stream.

Mike Gierau

The Legislature’s Management Council voted 7-6 in the email vote on July 8 to add the item as a study topic for the joint minerals committee, according to the Legislative Service Office. Anderson and minerals committee co-chairman Rep. Mike Greear (R-Worland) brought the issue to the council, a super-committee that assigns study tasks to other committees, LSO director Matt Obrecht wrote WyoFile in an email.

 The topic appears to have evolved after the Management Council’s last meeting in March where it assigned other interim study topics to various committees. Nothing regarding temporary storage of spent nuclear fuel rods appeared on the posted agendas or published minutes of the Management Council or subsequent mineral committee proceedings.

On the Management Council, Sens. Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower), Dan Dockstader (R-Afton), Drew Perkins (R-Casper) and Bill Landen (R-Casper) plus Reps. Greear, Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale), and Speaker of the House Steve Harshman (R-Casper) supported the minerals committee request, Obrecht wrote.

Sens. Mike Gierau (D-Jackson), Liisa Anselmi-Dalton (D-Rock Springs, Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) opposed the measure along with Reps. Eric Barlow (R-Gillette), John Freeman (D-Green River) and Kathy Connolly (D-Laramie), according to Obrecht’s email.

The Management Council vote was taken by email, Obrecht said. The motion includes funds to support the investigation, but WyoFile could not immediately ascertain how much.

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Gierau outlined his opposition to the measure.

“I like a billion dollars as much as the next guy, but some things are not for sale,” he told WyoFile. He pointed to efforts through the state’s  Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming and other programs to diversify the state’s economy.

“Of all the things we want to do… I just don’t see this as a winning proposition, on an environmental, social or personal level,” he said.

He noted the close vote on the Management Council and said he would continue his opposition.

“I will do my best to make sure it’s not as close on the floor,” he said.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. It does not sound like my comment will be much appreciated, sad to say.

    I am a mechanical engineer . . . raised in New England by parents who considered themselves hardcore committed environmentalists and “hippies,” and carried much of that sensibility forward my entire career. I think many people take for granted the enormous energy of the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s, which actually resulted in a tremendous amount of very positive legislation that changed all of our lives. I remember when it wasn’t safe to swim in much of the Hudson River in New York, when you couldn’t eat the fish you might catch there (if there were any left), when the Ohio River caught fire, when the grass adjacent to our interstates were littered with cigarette butts and soda bottles. Of course we have a long way to go . . . . but I have friends in upstate New York who now swim in the Hudson and can eat the fish they catch.

    However, I was selected for the nuclear Navy. And subsequently spent 10 years working for a commercial nuclear power plant. I know . . . .”boo, hiss, we don’t want to hear what you have to say because we understand the dangers of nuclear energy far more than you do.”

    I wish people who were so committed to that position would consider how they’d feel when lectured about their own professions or occupations by people who’d never studied it and simply allowed themselves to be guided by emotion.

    I could go into detail about how exactly the specific spent nuclear fuel rods are chosen for “dry storage”–how long they are required to decay prior to permanent entombment, how these casks are constructed, the quality control checks they are subjected to, and the regulatory requirements and worst case testing scenarios they are subjected to prior to design certification–but I don’t think a skeptic is interested in genuine exploration in that area.

    What I would encourage anyone who approaches this topic with an automatic and highly negative opinion to consider is . . . . . . . .

    Nuclear physics has several attributes which separate risk consideration from other types of biological, chemical, atmospheric, and groundwater toxins. It is the only “poison” I am aware of which can be instantaneously recognized, measured, quantified, and assessed. In a domestic economy highy reliant on the production, development, combination, transportation, delivery and utilization of chemical toxins . . . in a domestic economy always at risk from biological contagion (flu epidemics, rabies, and consider the current risk Africa is dealing with in terms of ebola and the possibility of an outbreak on this side of the Atlantic) . . . the hazard from spent nuclear fuel is simple. Radiation. Whether alpha, beta or gamma. It can be detected immediately the microsecond it exceeds background. The meters that can detect and measure it instantaneously can be purchased for next to nothing. There are glasses that can translate minute quantities of incident radiation into a visual display. It can be instantly detected slightly above background from satellites.

    None of this is possible with chemical spills, releases, biological releases, coal plants releasing excessive amounts of particulate or mercury. All of THOSE toxins require hours or days of testing to even know they are present, and longer to quantify.

    These poisons contribute to untold deaths every year. Train derailments carrying chlorine, Truck accidents carrying hazmat. People die in refinery fires, chemical plant explosions, airplane crashes, automobile accidents.

    Before you completely make up your mind, consider doing some research on “Dry Cask Storage.” Wikipedia would be a great place to start. Note that the first license for these casks in the United States was granted in 1986. That was 33 years ago.

    Consider researching the total exposure received by all individuals in the United States involved in loading these casks, delivering them to their current locations (predominately concrete pads within the “controlled areas” of nuclear power plants, and monitoring them daily over the years of the storage. Consider getting the total number of deaths or radiation sickness associated with these operations (zero, but please don’t take a lifelong environmentalist’s input on this). Consider researching how many of these have been transported by rail and train to other locations. How many accidents have been incurred during storage, transport, relocation. How many casks have experienced breaches of their concrete exterior (zero, but please don’t take my word for it). How many casks have experienced breaches of their welded stainless steel interior (zero, but please don’t take my word for it).

    Knowledge is power. I beg any reader who questions anything I’ve written here to research it. Find out for yourself. Of course we are all “scared of the dark.” But to automatically dismiss a revenue possibility because you haven’t actually studied it . . . is a disservice to everyone who devoted their lifetimes as scientists, as engineers, as technicians to making all of this as safe as possible for OUR families, as well as yours.

    And finally . . . . . it may help some skeptics to keep in mind that all of the US domestic spent nuclear fuel today could be buried in an area the size of a football field to a depth of 20 feet.

    I beg you to contrast that with the mountains of coal ash that are adjacent to every coal fired power plant. The contribution to acid rain from coal. The high percentage of coal miners with black lung in their fifties. The mercury contamination that has resulted from both aerial pollution from the stacks and the coal ash piles that leach. And finally . . . for those of you who do accept the science associated with burning fossil fuels and climate change . . . that tiny volume of spent nuclear fuel hasn’t contributed on iota to that issue that is currently accelerating faster than the most dire predictions from 20 years ago.

    Knowledge is power. Study and THEN reject the possibility of Wyoming revenue from storing these casks. Do you even know what one of these casks looks like?

  2. I am sad about this story that our state Representatives would want to store spent nuclear rods in our state!? Nothing like this is Ever temporary and since our state benefits greatly from tourism and hunting, it is irresponsible to risk poisoning any of our lands or water.
    I don’t know if there is a current state policy against importing nuclear waste- I hope there is and it stays in place.
    I agree that this is a controversial topic and the public deserves a Public meeting with the opportunity to learn more about it and provide input before any vote like this should ever happen. Civic engagement should be encouraged & expected.

  3. Jeez must everyone adopt the most extreme rhetoric on this subject? If Jim Anderson sincerely wants to engage in rational discussion, why would he start out with such outrageous, unfounded, Trumpian language? And of course it stimulated a predictable outcry, exacerbated by the clumsy method in which the idea was re-introduced to public discourse. Anderson owes the public an apology.
    These fuel rods are being stored in places, such as pools in heavily populated areas, which were never intended to be used more than in a transitory fashion. The federal government is responsible by law for finding a safe, permanent home for them, since we do not allow fuel rod reprocessing in this country. No one wants these but that does not make them go away. It is easy to be opposed to having them near one’s state, thus the virulent debate over Yucca Mountain. There needs to be a solution; these fuel rods must be stored somewhere. They are encased in so much concrete that it is hyperbole to refer to them as “nuclear waste” or “radioactive waste”.
    Let’s take the extremism out of the discussion and talk about the risks, which have been exhaustively studied and are tiny, and the benefits, which might be meaningful, of storing them in a remote location while the federal government dithers about permanent storage. But let’s also be realistic; once they are stored, they are probably going to stay there for a while.
    And if someone makes some money from developing a site, what is wrong with that?

    I am not running for office and I have no dog in this fight.

  4. In my experience temporary solutions regarding junk, especially when toxic, tend to be become permanent. – not least in states where our good ol’ boy class is more beholden to industry than to the long-term interests of the state.

    I am sorry Senator Anderson thinks Wyoming was a victim of environmental terrorists. He should specify the acts of terrorism they committed. I assume it was standard terrorist tactic of citizens and public organizations exercising their legal and constitutional rights to argue against ideas they consider to daft. Ah, those cunning environmentalists!

    The senator sponsored legislation in 2010 to get the code of the West accepted as Wyoming’s official state ethical code. He might review two of them:

    Some things aren’t for sale
    Know where to draw the line.

    1. As another who might be considered an “environmental terrorist” (one who opposes the encroachment on our public lands by frackers and mining interests) How, if coal is on the decline, can you say we are in a crunch when you’ve been busily selling drilling leases left and right? And now you want to store spent nuclear rods? Nothing like this is ever temporary. and since our state benefits greatly from tourism and hunting, it is irresponsible to risk poisoning any of our lands. By the way, are you really going to allow toxic water to be released into Boysen? I’m sure you will vote for it if you can just shut us all up. Who cares if you turn Thermopolis into another Flint? We do. That’s who.

  5. This story was picked up by energynews.us. Congratulations to your reporter, who does you such a great service, and to you for your common decency in understanding the lure of something for “free”. Nuclear waste is the legacy of the 20th Century and a burden we will pass down to all of Humanity to follow us.

    Facts are, your state has great potential for energy production with new technologies, if you can export it easily. Right now, the cheapest sources of power are wind and solar.. Adding battery storage is now not just possible, not just practical, but is profitable.

    Los Angeles just bought solar power for less than 2 cents/kWh with battery storage at just over 3 cents/kWh. By contrast, the new nukes in Georgia are already over 15 cents/kWh by their construction costs, and they are not even finished yet. My own household and two electric cars are powered mainly by our PV solar system on the roof of the house, which paid off in three years in gasoline savings alone. We now get prepaid house and horsepower.

    Wyoming has the potential to lead the nation in renewables. Can you do it? Will you do it?

    Just a thought.

    1. Leave it to the someone from California to be completely ignorant of Wyoming. Wyoming produces the most wind power per capita in the US or is very closely tied to Vermont. Please continue to talk about how Wyoming isn’t a leader in “newer technologies”. No solar power is 2 cents/kWh with battery storage at just over 3 cents/kWh, there are subsidies and hidden/manipulated costs there, you are being taken for a ride by clowns.

      Nuclear waste is a political issue, not a technical one. It isn’t even a burden. There are numerous way to safely remove the waste today, but again, politics and environmentalists prevents this from happening.

  6. Why do you think the government will pay a billion dollars to store it?
    Oil, gas, and (clean) coal are the best sources of energy we have to maintain our quality of life. Renewables are right to pursue but do not produce even a quarter of what we need.
    European countries are shutting down nuclear power plants. Ask the people of Fukushima what they think about it..

  7. Hmmm…. 5-10 years, only until permanent storage but no such storage location exists…. Seems to me like Wyoming should stick with its current law and policy which prevents “temporary” storage in the state until a permanent storage location is permitted and operational and only allows waste from a nuclear power plant in Wyoming (of which there are none). We have a current state policy against importing nuclear waste. And I hope the committee isn’t going to water down our standards of environmental review, but if they try I know there will be (non-terrorist) Wyomingites who will join me in opposing. (For those following along at home, review W.S. 35-11-1501, et seq. and especially section 1506(e))

  8. Wyoming now the home for nuclear waste? Face the facts Coal is now on the way out, not a chance… For what Wyoming is seeing at this moment is a conglomerate being made to enhance the political power of Coal… Next, as far as nuclear waste the above comments truly have merit and Eli Bebout was the instigator of that legislation.
    As for Jim Anderson, he reminds Wyoming of Concern for outside money, when Wyoming is truly being bought out by the riches of Land developments and low land cost… Want to stop low revenues in Wyoming then these Legislative people need to not store nuclear waste, but open the mines of hidden revenues in Wyoming… Senator Diskrill and the boys know that revenue pocket is a State Income Tax and have not the courage to make us all pay, including their rich donors…
    Want to see the future of Wyoming just look at the developments around Cheyenne in Laramie County and the expansions of the outreach into Wyoming at no cost…

  9. So, if someone disagrees with Jim Anderson they are an “environmental terrorist”? What is “temporary” when we’re talking nukes? 500,000 years maybe? Let’s see, to put this into perspective, the Egyptian pyramids are thought to be about 4,000 years old. Actually, I’ve enjoyed hiking and mountain biking near the Gas Hills, on the Beaver Divide, and in the Rattlesnake Range. The area is already popular with several people who I know, and I think that may be increasing. Let’s not turn this area into a national joke, and a radio active garbage dump. In fairness, there are currently several entombments for permanent nuclear waste storage there, but adding to it is a really bad idea. On the other hand, certainly, Republicans hereabouts will be happy to store all this waste in their own homes. It really shouldn’t be an inconvenience to them; they like that kind of stuff. This could be a really good tourist attraction; Come see what the ignorant are willing to do to make a living! This would almost be funny if it were funny.

  10. There are so many problem with this idea I have not enough digits to count them all. Certainly one our fine politicians is not in line to make some cash on this deal, as we all know that is not how Wyoming works? Maybe we should send this secrete council to Fukushima Japan so they can see and understand more about what their decision could impact. Ask really simple questions and get answers that will curl their hair,

  11. This was a BAD idea nearly 30 years ago when the people of Wyoming turned out to resoundingly defeat the proposal to offer up Wyoming as the place to store nuclear waste. It is still A BAD IDEA for many reasons – including moving nuclear waste around the country to “temporarily” store it in Wyoming and then move it again to a long term repository. Who comes up with these dumb ideas? If this is the best our policy makers can do to diversify the Wyoming economy they need to find another state to represent. Wyoming has a lot to offer the world but one of them is not a place to store nuclear waste. “God Bless Wyoming and Keep it Wild” We defeated this sorry proposal before and the people of Wyoming will do it again!

    1. Hey ! My father was telling everyone to get solar and wind power back in 1976 ! For some of you who were alive then we had oil and gas shortege s that were how you say contrived by the oil companies to bolster prices up and line their pockets .watch the documentary on Chernobyl . Then tell yourselves how safe the “spent” fuel rods are . Sure the fuel rods we would be recieving aren’t in an active plant but they are still radioactive and if an accident ,either man made (oops I dropped one off a fork lift ) or natural (earthquake) the radiation is amazing and your Geiger counter will be squawking till your skin peels . No body wants them for a reason . There not “safe” by any means . As we drove west last week we came upon Pendleton Oregon, which embraced solar power and now reaps the energy in great abundance . Pendleton Oregon is a cowboy town . And they don’t have a problem with solar or wind not generating enough Ower .

  12. Where to begin?
    (1) This is abysmal in terms of government transparency and accountability. There is a well-established, open, public process for considering and voting on potential interim topics, and this circumvented all of that. An email vote without even notifying the public? Are you kidding me?
    (2) Thank god for WyoFile. Who knows how long we would have been left in the dark.
    (3) It’s beyond the pale for a state senator to label citizens who might disagree with his position “terrorists.” This is a direct assault on what should be a universally shared value of civic engagement.
    (4) A secret vote followed by a preemptive assault on citizens and voters who might disagree is wrong. It’s not acceptable. And it’s definitely not the kind of leadership Wyoming needs right now.
    (5) This is obviously a controversial topic and the public deserves a public meeting with the opportunity to learn more about it and provide input to the committee before any vote like this should ever happen. Civic engagement should be encouraged, not attacked.
    (6) On a personal level, I think the idea itself is the opposite of forward-looking, and not in Wyoming’s best interests. I think it’s not only a bad idea . . . but it’s a really OLD bad idea. I guess the fact that I hold this opinion makes me, in the eyes of at least one state senator, a “terrorist.”

    1. Thanks for posting this. You hit every nail right on the head.

      (1) It is gut wrenching that this is even possible. Legislators’ email communications are technically considered ‘confidential’ and specifically exempt from disclosure under public records rules. So apparently policy can now be enacted and taxpayer dollars can be spent 100% in secret, via unannounced, private email exchanges between legislators? Can individual legislators be secretly excluded from these exchanges by fiat to prevent them from registering an opposing vote to ensure passage or to prevent one of them from publicly disclosing the action? I’m willing to bet the only reason WyoFile even got a hold of this is because one of the opposing legislators involved told them about it. If that was indeed the case, what is preventing that legislator from being deleted out of the cc line on future ’email votes’ so they can’t go blabbing to the press? This is massively concerning behavior that cannot be allowed to happen.
      (2) I’m sure if they had it their way, they would have left the state permanently in the dark about this… Or at least until it started glowing from radiation.
      (3) This appears to be the motive for the secrecy. They are intentionally cutting the public out so the ‘terrorists’ have no way of raising hell to stop them this time around. Inappropriate, secret government actions in the name of preventing ‘terrorism’ I guess.
      (4) The Wyoming legislature has never been a very good place to find ‘leadership’. This isn’t the first time they have sought to make this move toward fuel rod storage. The last time it came up, one of the major legislative proponents driving the initiative had direct, personal financial interest, as well as family with even more direct personal financial interest in making the project happen. I think every person involved in this action, at every step of the way, ought to be closely scrutinized to pick out the self-dealers. Given the history, it seems like a pretty safe bet there will be some to pick out.
      (5) No kidding. There are a LOT of stakeholders in this State when it comes to something like this. Anybody who lives anywhere near these project sites, anyone who lives in or along any place that will see this material transported through on the way to storage. Anybody who uses public lands or engages in outdoor recreation anywhere near potential storage sites. Literally every single other person in the state that risks seeing effectively permanent polluted land in the state if an accident or natural disaster causes a breach in containment. Depending on how broad a brush Mr. Anderson is painting here, it turns out that the entire state of Wyoming might actually be completely FULL of “Terrorists” by his definition. But hey, at least they are considering “maybe building a fence” around the massive storage of radioactive nuclear material…Is that chain link? or White picket? Because I’m kinda getting “white picket” vibes from him on that.
      (6) Watching this state’s lawmakers realize and express in exasperation that “coal is going way downhill and FAST, we gotta do something, we’re out of time and we’re screwed!” And then turn around and only take actions to double-down on that very same failing coal industry, or presenting something like this as a solution? At some level, they are all seeming to recognizing the full gravity and scope of the situation at hand, but then then thinking they can somehow undo it with with the exact same stupidity and short-sighted policy-making that got us unto this situation in the first place. A radioactive band-aid is the best they got? Really? It’s truly incredible to witness…

  13. This rather reeks of Faust.

    Wyoming is the perfect place for this sort of thing. That defines the problem , unfortunately…
    That ‘ unannounced e-mail vote ‘ is also quite problematic.

    1. There are so many problem with this idea I have not enough digits to count them all. Certainly one our fine politicians is not in line to make some cash on this deal, as we all know that is not how Wyoming works? Maybe we should send this secrete council to Fukushima Japan we they can see and understand more about what their decision could impact. Ask really simple questions and get answers that will curl their hair,

  14. In 1992, when Eli Bebout and others first proposed a “monitored retrievable storage” facility for Fremont County, many people both in Fremont County and Wyoming opposed the idea. The Wyoming Outdoor Council’s staff led the fight against the facility, and for their pains, they and other environmentalists received numerous death threats.

    As far as I’m concerned, making death threats is a terrorist act. In other words, when Jim Anderson absurdly calls environmentalists “terrorists” for peacefully opposing this latest idiot idea for storing nuclear waste in Wyoming, he merely reminds me who the real terrorists are in this state.

    RH

  15. I was a lobbyist for Audubon for a year back in the late 80s. I think at that point Eli Bebout was trying to legislate for storing nuclear waste while he was involved in the company that would be doing it. I’d be interested to know if Bebout is consulting on any of this.