Although South Carolina’s future role in disposing of spent nuclear fuel remains unclear, the Governor’s Nuclear Advisory Council is scheduled to hear a presentation on the topic today from French nuclear giant Areva, which has ties to Aiken County and Savannah River Site.
Today’s presentation is one of several signs that behind-the-scenes interest in the Palmetto State remains high as Congress and the U.S. Department of Energy try to forge new solutions for spent fuel now stored in pools and casks at the nation’s 104 commercial power reactors.
The nationwide inventory – more than 75,000 tons – was to be buried in a deep repository in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain until that project was halted by the Obama administration.
A Blue Ribbon Commission formed in the wake of that decision suggested that interim storage sites could safely and temporarily be used to store the materials until a permanent solution is found.
Although there are no formal proposals to create a nuclear waste facility in South Carolina, it is an issue that must be evaluated, said Rick McLeod, the executive director of the SRS Community Reuse Organization, an economic development consortium unrelated to Areva’s presentation in Columbia.
“Right now, it’s just a topic that’s out there,” he said. “Everyone’s discussing what it could or could not be, and not just here. A lot of other communities are looking at it, too.”
McLeod’s group launched a $200,000 study in June to explore Savannah River Site’s potential role in spent nuclear fuel solutions and the role of surrounding counties.
The Blue Ribbon Commission also recommended avoiding forcing nuclear waste on communities where it is not wanted and devising a more cooperative siting process that involves communities supportive of spent fuel projects.
Part of the group’s study focuses on such questions, he said.
“If something were to go forward on this end of the back fuel cycle, we’d like to know what the communities may want in – and maybe incentive isn’t the right word – but equity. We’re trying to find out what it would take to be a host community.”
McLeod said his organization’s study, due for release in early 2013, is not part of any vision Areva might share with state officials.
“There’s no correlation right now,” he said. “They’re not tied to what our study does and we’re not tied to what Areva’s doing.”
The nationwide inventory of 75,000 tons of stockpiled spent fuel could expand to 150,000 tons by 2050, even if no more reactors are built, the DOE said.