The absence of a clear plan to manage the nation’s spent nuclear fuel and defense wastes could leave South Carolina vulnerable to further exploitation as a long-term storage site, a local economic development leader told members of Congress Thursday.
“We continue to believe Yucca Mountain was – and is – the right answer for permanent nuclear waste disposal, and its completion should be pursued vigorously, especially for high-level defense waste,” said Rick McLeod, the executive director of the SRS Community Reuse Organization.
McLeod and others testified before the House Science, Space & Technology Subcommittee, which is evaluating recommendations from the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future.
The Blue Ribbon Committee was formed after the Obama administration canceled the Yucca Mountain project that was to become a permanent underground repository. Although the committee concluded the U.S. still needs deep, geologic storage, its members made no mention of resurrecting Yucca Mountain. “We consider this to be the ‘missing recommendation,’ ” McLeod said.
South Carolina, with 3,900 metric tons of spent fuel at multiple storage sites, ranks third in the nation. It is also home to Savannah River Site and its high level defense wastes.
McLeod urged subcommittee members to consider high-level defense wastes separately from spent nuclear fuel.
“The waste is different. The quantity is different. The number of locations affected is different. The potential for future use is different,” he said.
Most importantly, he added, the Yucca Mountain decision makes it likely that defense wastes at SRS will remain there indefinitely, turning South Carolina into a “de facto Yucca Mountain” in which SRS waste is left without a disposition path.
He also urged officials to listen to the scientists, not the politicians, when making critical nuclear waste decisions.
“We continue to urge the Department of Energy to reconsider its position and allow science and engineering – not politics – to establish the most appropriate means for disposal of high-level defense nuclear waste.”