The U.S. Energy Department is looking for businesses to design a demonstration project for large-scale and long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel.
In a notice posted last week by the Office of Nuclear Energy, the department said its intention is simply to identify resources, and that no formal project has been announced or funded.
The announcement, however, could indicate the government – which is preparing a new spent fuel strategy for Congress – is leaning toward consolidated storage options that could affect South Carolina, said Tom Clements with the Alliance of Nuclear Accountability.
“This solicitation is being put out in advance of DOE delivering the spent fuel strategy report to Congress, which will likely affirm consolidated spent fuel storage,” he said. “Thus, DOE has set the stage for a fight in states that may be targeted for spent fuel dumps, like South Carolina and Savannah River Site.”
Spent fuel is currently stored at the nation’s 104 nuclear power plants, including Plant Vogtle in Burke County. 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.
In June, the SRS Community Reuse Organization, an economic development consortium working to recruit new missions and jobs to the area, launched a $200,000 study to explore Savannah River Site’s potential role in devising disposal solutions for spent nuclear fuel, said Rick McLeod, the group’s executive director.
That study, to be completed early next year, is not specifically connected to the recent demonstration project notice, but would certainly explore the site’s possible role in projects involving outside locations or businesses.
“There is a potential that SRS could play a part of it, but we haven’t heard of anything specific to that proposal,” McLeod said, noting that such a demonstration project would likely require participation from a utility-owned, actively operating power reactor.
In a report unveiled last January, a Blue Ribbon Commission appointed by Energy Secretary Steven Chu concluded that a deep geologic repository remains essential to nuclear waste disposal but also suggested interim storage sites could safely and temporarily be used to store the materials.