SRS awaits Energy Department nuclear waste strategy

The fate of Savannah River Site’s high-level nuclear waste could become clearer by the end of July, when U.S. Energy Department officials brief Congress on a new national disposal strategy.

Currently, the site’s inventory includes about 3,100 steel canisters of stabilized waste that, until the Obama administration canceled the Yucca Mountain project in 2010, were to be removed from South Carolina for burial in Nevada.

The site’s Citizens Advisory Board recently asked officials to explore sending all or part of the stored waste to the department’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, N.M., where lower-level “transuranic” nuclear waste is buried beneath the Chihuahuan Desert.

In a letter last week in response to the board’s recommendation, SRS manager David Moody said his department is evaluating the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission created to devise a new disposal strategy after Yucca Mountain was canceled.

“Repository and interim storage sites will be considered in accordance with a consent-based process as outlined by the Blue Ribbon Commission,” he wrote. “Additionally, the department’s experiences at (the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant) are being considered as part of the assessment to respond to the commission.”

The New Mexico site was designed for the disposal of the same type of canisters stored at SRS but is licensed only for less-concentrated radioactive wastes, such as lightly contaminated clothing, tools and other materials. Because of that difference, revising the facility’s acceptance criteria would likely require approval from Congress.

“The administration’s strategy regarding these matters is expected to be delivered to Congress by the end of July 2012,” Moody wrote, adding that a briefing for the citizens board will be arranged thereafter.

The board is a stakeholder group that provides the assistant secretary for environmental management and designees with advice, information and recommendations on issues affecting the environmental and cleanup programs.

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