The U.S. Energy Department made official Monday its plan to scrap a Bush administration initiative that could have brought a major nuclear fuel reprocessing facility to South Carolina.
Economic developers, however, say the cancellation of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership - published in Monday's Federal Register - doesn't mean Barnwell County and Savannah River Site won't win a similar venture in the future.
"At this point, GNEP, as a concept, is dead, but the issue of what to do with this material isn't," said Danny Black, the president of Southern Carolina Alliance, a regional economic development consortium based in Barnwell.
The GNEP program, unveiled in 2006, was a plan to reprocess spent commercial nuclear fuel to reduce waste and prevent its exploitation for nuclear weapons.
Two of the 11 sites proposed for such reprocessing centers were in South Carolina, and both of those sites remain strong contenders for future projects, Mr. Black said.
"Now you have 11 sites around the country that have all been vetted and analyzed to the 'n' th degree for reprocessing, storage, all those kinds of things," he said. "Those sites are still very valuable for that purpose."
South Carolina's sites include the $300 million Allied General Nuclear Services facility in Barnwell, built in the 1970s but mothballed by the Carter administration. Savannah River National Laboratory also received a federal grant to develop siting proposals.
Mr. Black noted that DOE also plans to abandon a 27-year, $13.5 billion effort to establish a permanent nuclear waste repository in Nevada's Yucca Mountain - a move that elevates the need for an alternative facility.
"So as far as we're concerned, GNEP may have gone away, but the need to recycle spent fuel in this country is more important than ever because of the government's stupid decision to close Yucca Mountain," he said.
The expected surge in the demand for commercial nuclear power will create a comparable increase in spent fuel that will require disposition, he said. Currently, much of that fuel is stored at commercial nuclear power plants.
"I think we are, as much as we can be, still optimistic," he said. "We are even more optimistic because, at this point, there is no alternative. Without Yucca Mountain, the pressure is on the industry to do more with recycling. And of course, we can do it here."
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From federal register:
"Via this notice, DOE announces that it has decided to cancel the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement because it is no longer pursuing domestic commercial reprocessing, which was the primary focus of the prior Administration's domestic GNEP program. The Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009, provides
$145 million for the continuation of research and development (R&D) on proliferation-resistant fuel cycles and waste management strategies. As described in the President's Fiscal Year 2010 budget request, the Department's fuel cycle R&D's focus is on "long-term, science-based R&D of technologies with the potential to produce beneficial changes to the manner in which the nuclear fuel cycle and nuclear waste is managed.''