A South Carolina nuclear plant operator wants to now store radioactive waste in steel and concrete containers instead of submerging the refuse in water pools.

South Carolina Electric & Gas’ (SCE&G) plan to build dry cask storage units at its V.C. Summer nuclear plant will relieve pressure on its spent-fuel pool. The pool contains what nuclear-industry watchers say are more than 1,100 used fuel assemblies — long, non-corrosive tubes, bundled together, that contain nuclear fuel pellets.

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The pool has capacity until 2017, but SCE&G plans to start using the dry cask storage units in 2015.

Anti-nuclear activists said dry cask storage is safer than pools if nuclear waste has to stay on site. That scenario may end up being a reality as plans for long-term storage sites like Yucca Mountain remain in limbo.

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SCE&G will need a license for the casks and has an upcoming meeting with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

The dry casks will store the waste above ground and shielded by thick walls in containers that one federal nuclear official said look like giant beer kegs. The containers will be about 16 feet high and 12 feet in diameter. The concrete and steel containers will go up adjacent to the Summer reactor.

One advantage with dry cask storage is that it saves power. An operator needs energy to keep cooling water in basins but since there is no water involved in dry cask storage, there is a savings. The safety of spent fuel pools has been in the news this year because of the spring breakdown of atomic power reactors in Japan after an earthquake and tsunami. The natural disasters knocked out power and allowed spent fuel to overheat.

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