SRS nuclear waste could go to New Mexico facility

Advisory panel wants WIPP to be explored
Yucca Mountain facility

As federal courts haggle over the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada, a local board wants to explore another option for Savannah River Site’s stranded high-level nuclear waste: Send it to New Mexico instead.

The SRS Citizens Advisory Board will discuss a recommendation to send some or all of the site’s 3,100 “ready for shipment” canisters of stabilized waste to the Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, N.M., where lower-level “transuranic” nuclear waste is buried in 250 million-year-old salt deposits a half-mile beneath the Chihuahuan Desert.

The most dangerous waste at SRS is being vitrified – placed into glass poured into steel canisters that, until the Obama administration canceled the Yucca Mountain project in 2010, were to be removed from South Carolina for burial in Nevada.

“SRS is now storing these canisters with no known final disposition path,” the board wrote in a draft recommendation to be discussed at its May 21-22 meeting in Savannah, Ga. Ultimately, the number of canisters will swell to 7,500, requiring – in addition to two existing storage buildings – the construction of a third storage site.

The indefinite storage of high-level waste that DOE pledged to remove from South Carolina “has not been accepted well by the surrounding communities” and undermines DOE’s credibility, the draft said.

The WIPP site was designed for the disposition of the same type of canisters stored at SRS but is licensed only for less-concentrated radioactive wastes, such as lightly contaminated clothing, tools and other materials. Because of that difference, revising the facility’s acceptance criteria would likely require approval from Congress.

“From our limited understanding the WIPP site would be technically feasible and it seems to have an astounding amount of capacity to accept radioactive waste,” the draft said. “Further, any attempt to have canisters removed from SRS would have an immediate positive impact on the surrounding communities.”

The board is a stakeholder group that provides the assistant secretary for environmental management and designees with advice, information and recommendations on issues affecting the environmental and cleanup programs.

Department of Energy Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Photos: Department of Energy WIPP

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