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Yankee plant closed but its waste remains

SPRINGFIELD -- With the site of one of the country's first nuclear power plants finally considered safe for public use, all that remains of the reactor that stood for 47 years in the woodsy town of Rowe is its radioactive waste.

The federal government announced this month that the Yankee Rowe site had been officially decommissioned. But 266,000 pounds of spent fuel is still sitting on about 3 acres of land, sealed in protective barriers in the Western Massachusetts town teetering on the Vermont border.

Yankee owns the 30 acres the plant was built on, and company officials are deciding what to do with it. Some ideas have included turning the space and an adjoining 2,000 acres owned by the company into an area for recreation and land conservation.

A report on possible land uses is expected to be submitted to Yankee's operators this fall, company spokesman Bob Capstick said.

"They can do whatever they want with it," said Dave McIntyre, a spokesman for the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. "The land wouldn't be released if it weren't safe."

The Yankee Nuclear Power Station was built in 1960 and went online a year later. At the time, it was the country's third nuclear plant and was expected to generate power for about six years. It wound up churning out 44 billion kilowatt hours of electricity for New England customers until 1992, when it was shut down.

Since then, workers have been dismantling the plant and cleaning the area.

Now all that is left of Yankee Rowe is its waste. Contained in 15 concrete containers standing 13 feet high and designed to withstand earthquakes, tornadoes, and small plane crashes are 533 spent fuel assemblies.

The radioactive material was sealed in the dry storage casks about five years ago.

As the spent reactor fuel continues to cool off inside the casks, Yankee officials wait for the federal government to approve plans to store the country's nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in the Nevada desert.

There are 28 nuclear power plants in the country that are decommissioned or in the process. Along with Rowe, eight communities in seven other states are waiting for the Department of Energy to haul away nuclear waste, McIntyre said.

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