The import of highly radioactive nuclear waste from Germany to Savannah River Site has been delayed by failure to finish a report.
Nearly a year after a public hearing on proposed German nuclear waste shipments, the U.S. Department of Energy says a required report on environmental impacts awaits completion. A draft of the environmental assessment could be released “in the near future,” department spokesman Jim Giusti said.
“It should be noted that even after the final (environmental assessment) is complete, it does not constitute a DOE decision to accept, or not, these fuels at SRS,” he said in an e-mailed statement.
Federal officials signed a notice of intent in May 2014 to prepare a German-funded environmental assessment on shipping 455 storage casks across the Atlantic ocean to SRS via a Charleston, S.C., port. The used nuclear fuel containing 900 kilograms of highly enriched uranium would be processed at SRS and prepared for disposal.
Tom Clements, the director of watchdog group SRS Watch and a critic of bringing the German fuel to the U.S., said the site’s National Environmental Policy Act office did not respond to his request for the date or approximate schedule for releasing a draft of the environmental document.
SRS is also pursuing foreign shipments from Canada that are expected to begin sometime in fiscal year 2016, Giusti said. The liquid radioactive uranium from Atomic Energy Canada Limited’s Chalk River Laboratory will be processed at the site’s H Canyon plant.
Last month, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission extended a certificate approving steel and lead shipping casks to transport the spent fuel on nondisclosed routes, said NRC spokeswoman Maureen Conley. The authorization first granted in February 2013 was extended five years.
Potential litigation in Germany concerning regulations for shipping spent fuel outside the country could be delaying action in the U.S., Clements said. Additionally, he said SRS has not prepared a legal analysis of exporting the German fuel.
“I don’t think DOE did their homework before jumping into this idea,” he said. “Now, they’re having to slow down and look at it more.”
Maxcine Maxted, the used fuel program manager at SRS, said at a June 2014 public hearing that environmental assessments typically take nine to 12 months to complete, according to The Augusta Chronicle archives. The assessment will study impacts to worker health and safety, ecological systems and air and water quality.
The waste embedded inside graphite spheres – each about the size of a tennis ball – is unlike anything previously done at SRS.
Giusti said the Savannah River National Laboratory is still working with a German research center to develop technology to dispose of the spent fuel. The Energy Department has not decided whether it will accept the highly enriched uranium, he said.