Federal officials from the U.S. Energy Department will discuss potential shipments of highly-radioactive nuclear waste from Germany at a public meeting Tuesday.
A brief presentation begins at 7 p.m. on the scope and potential environmental impacts of waste shipments proposed for Savannah River Site. Following the presentation, officials will listen to public comments on the proposal, which has been opposed by environmental and anti-nuclear activists.
In May, the Energy Department signed a notice of intent to prepare a German-funded environmental assessment on shipping 455 storage casks across the Atlantic ocean to a Charleston, S.C. port. From there, the used nuclear fuel containing 900 kilograms of highly-enriched uranium would board a train for SRS where it would be processed and disposed.
Critics, however, fear the federal government has no plan for disposing of the waste and it would be stored long-term at SRS, compounding waste management problems at the South Carolina site.
“We do not want foreign nuclear waste dumped in South Carolina when the best way forward is for Germany to follow its own law that requires domestic disposal,” said Tom Clements, director of watchdog group SRS Watch. “This is a bad idea from an environmental and proliferation perspective and it must be canceled by both Germany and DOE.”
Clements said German law requires high-level waste to be disposed of within the state it was created, and an associated European Union legal act prohibits sending spent fuel abroad for disposal.
New technology being developed at Savannah River National Laboratory and modifications to the H-Canyon facilities at SRS would be used to remove thousands of small graphite spheres containing U.S.-origin uranium. According to a federal notice for the public meeting, the spheres were irradiated in German nuclear reactors for research and development purposes.
The Energy Department identified three alternatives for disposing of the highly-enriched uranium: downblending and reuse as reactor fuel; disposal in a radioactive waste disposal facility; or vitrification in the Defense Waste Processing Facility at SRS.
The environmental assessment will study impacts to worker health and safety, ecological systems and air and water quality. In addition, transportation across the ocean and risks associated with terrorist attacks will be considered.