Is there nuclear waste in your state?

Nuclear Storage

Taking the lead on a major problem for many states, South Carolina and Washington state went to court Tuesday demanding that the Nuclear Regulatory Committee provide a place to permanently store radioactive waste.

"I think the problem is demonstrated by the recent events in Japan in that storing it near communities is great while it works, but if something goes wrong, people are exposed to great risk," said Andrew Fitz, assistant Attorney General, Washington state.

Complete coverage: Disaster in Japan

The storage tanks were never meant to be a permanent solution. The nation's oldest operating reactor, Oyster Creek in New Jersey, has stored some spent fuel for 41 years - 20 years longer than expected.

(Scroll down to see how much nuclear waste your state stores.)

An estimated 66,000 metric tons of spent fuel rods are stored at 77 sites around the country - that's more than 145 million pounds. Imagine an entire football field full of spent fuel rods, seven yards high.

Disaster in Japan: Latest updates, March 22

Currently 2,000 metric tons are added each year. That crowds the tanks, making them less efficient in reducing radioactivity.

"People want all the benefits of nuclear power," said Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear safety expert with the Monterey Institute. "And they want to pretend that there's no safety risk."

Blog: Who wants 66,000 tons of hot nuclear waste?

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Plans to make Nevada's Yucca Mountain a long-term storage site were scuttled by the Obama administration a year ago - after 20 years of planning and at a cost of  $14 billion.

"We're looking at a longer timeframe for storage of spent fuel than we have in the past, but right now, we believe that spent fuel certainly can be stored safely and securely with the existing system," said Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The head of the NRC may not see a pressing problem, but the states now suing didn't want to take that risk before Japan's disaster, and certainly don't want to now.

Nuclear States
  • Jim Axelrod
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    Jim Axelrod is the chief investigative correspondent and senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning" and other CBS News broadcasts.