Exelon Corporation (EXC), Duke Energy Corp (DUK): How Much Nuclear Waste Does Your State Hold?

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One of the biggest critiques of nuclear energy is that it produces radioactive waste in the form of used nuclear fuel, or UNF. While the amounts are relatively small — just 20 metric tons per power plant annually — they remain radioactive for periods of time that are difficult for humans to comprehend. The waste adds up across the 100 nuclear reactors currently in operation across the United States. At last count, the country’s atomic fleet had produced approximately 69,720 metric tons of UNF over the past four decades.

More than 50 sites across the country are licensed for dry cask storage of spent nuclear fuel. Source: NRC.gov

Where does it all go? Power plants first store waste on-site in steel-lined concrete pools. After maxing out capacity, however, waste is stored in large dry casks similar to the ones pictured above. They may look intimidating, but there has never been a radiation leak since dry storage techniques were implemented in 1986.

Phew! No worries. But really, do you live in a state that hoards radioactive waste?

State-by-state breakdown
You may think that just because your state doesn’t have a nuclear power station it doesn’t have any nuclear waste. Of course, you may be wrong. While 31 states have an operating reactor, 38 contain at least some nuclear waste. That means seven states have really persuasive leaders! Here’s how it plays out for each state (numbers in metric tons):

Source: Nuclear Energy Institute.

If you live in one of the 12 white-colored states on the map above, you’re in the clear. For the rest of us, living within the same borders as spent fuel is just reality. Obviously, the states with more generating capacity will generate and therefore store more waste. The top 10 states hold 64% of all UNF in the United States.

State Metric tons of UNF
Illinois 9,010
Pennsylvania 6,290
South Carolina 4,210
New York 3,720
North Carolina 3,670
Alabama 3,320
Florida 3,040
California 2,970*
Georgia 2,690
New Jersey 2,660

Source: Nuclear Energy Institute.
*California’s total was updated as of Dec. 31, 2012 and is higher than what appears on the map. Sorry, California.

Who are the biggest culprits? Exelon Corporation (NYSE:EXC) is responsible for the majority of the waste currently being held in Illinois and Pennsylvania (that comes naturally with 19,000 MW of annual nuclear capacity). It has managed to persuade Idaho to store used fuel from its Three Mile Island reactors, however. The reactors and storage facility are more than 2,400 miles away. Sneaky, sneaky.

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