Savannah River Site oversight board calls for broader scope in German waste assessment



A federally appointed Savannah River Site oversight panel is challenging the environmental assessment being prepared for proposed shipments of German nuclear waste.

The assessment does not go far enough into analyzing potential delays to existing missions at the South Carolina site, the risks of terrorist attacks or the impact of long-term nuclear waste storage on citizens of Aiken and surrounding communities, according to the Savannah River Site Citizens Advisory Board.

Scientists at Savannah River National Laboratory have developed technology to dispose of highly-enriched uranium embedded inside one million graphite spheres – each about the size of a tennis ball. A German-funded assessment is being prepared to determine effects of shipping 455 storage casks filled with the spheres across the Atlantic Ocean to a Charleston, S.C. port.

Modifications to H-Canyon facilities at SRS would be used to remove 900 kilograms of highly enriched uranium from the spheres. Three disposition alternatives would involve the production of up to 100 vitrified logs at the site’s Defense Waste Processing Facility.

The SRS CAB, which has previously criticized foreign waste shipments to SRS, said the Department of Energy has not identified disposal locations for the German waste.

“Currently there is no Federal Repository for vitrified nuclear waste or other forms of highly radioactive waste, so it is important for the Department of Energy to include an analysis of the impact of long-term or permanent storage of such waste on both the Savannah River Site operations and local citizens,” the board wrote.

The board’s comments have been drafted but not finalized for submission. Public comments are due July 21.

The environmental assessment needs to include an analysis of delays to closing aging, high-level waste tanks and processing used nuclear fuel stored in L-Basin, since those missions use facilities that would be used to process the German fuel, the board wrote.

Additionally, the board called for looking at terrorist risks at each storage location for the waste throughout the disposition process.

The Department of Energy has said the German waste needs to be returned to the U.S. to keep it from falling into terrorist hands, but the board said without a risk assessment, it cannot “demonstrate to the public that the proposed project meets the stated purpose and need.”

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