Role of SRS in nuclear waste solutions to be studied

A study will explore Savannah River Site’s potential role in devising disposal solutions for spent nuclear fuel.

“We want to look at everything, from cradle to grave, involving the nuclear fuel cycle, even things we may not even know about,” said Rick McLeod, the executive director of the SRS Community Reuse Organization.

The CRO, a multicounty economic development consortium, is financing the $200,000 study, to be conducted by Timothy A. Frazier, a senior adviser to the Washington, D.C., firm of Dickstein Shapiro LLP.

Spent fuel is stored at the nation’s 104 nuclear power plants, including Plant Vogtle near Augusta. The nationwide inventory of 75,000 tons could expand to 150,000 tons by 2050, not including spent fuel from new reactors.

The long-term plan was to bury both commercial and radioactive defense wastes in a deep repository in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain – a project halted by the Obama administration.

Frazier served as the designated federal officer for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, empaneled to explore disposal options for closing the nuclear fuel cycle in the wake of the Yucca Mountain decision.

The five-county region that includes SRS could have a viable role in finding those solutions, McLeod said, but the study will at least offer a first glimpse into both the opportunities and the challenges.

“This is the next step toward seeking a broad community consensus about this important issue,” he said.

In a final report unveiled last January, the Blue Ribbon Commission concluded that a deep geologic repository remains essential to nuclear waste disposal and suggested interim storage sites could safely and temporarily be used to store the materials.

The panel also said a system in which the federal government forces nuclear waste on communities where it is not wanted is a no-win situation, and urged a more cooperative siting process that involves communities who are supportive of spent fuel projects.

Gauging community impacts, and public sentiment, are parts of the study that will focus on SRS and the surrounding communities, McLeod said.

“Current community interest in this topic stems, in part, from recent recommendations by the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission,” McLeod said. “Included in the recommendations is a call for a consent-based approach related the nuclear fuel cycle that would be built on agreement and support by an informed community.”

Clint Wolfe, the executive director of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, a pro-nuclear group, said the area is a logical candidate for involvement in nuclear waste solutions, partly because its nuclear history spans six decades.

“SRS already stores and will process spent nuclear fuel from domestic and foreign research reactors,” Wolfe said. “Our region is centrally located in the Southeast where many commercial nuclear power plants are located, including the first four to be licensed as part of the nuclear renaissance.”

The study, which could consider interim storage, reprocessing or doing nothing at all, is just the first step in a lengthy process, McLeod said. The study will be completed in 2013.

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