Objections raised to German waste at Savannah River Site



The Department of Energy should not take German spent nuclear fuel to Savannah River Site and should use somewhere else for interim storage of U.S.-generated nuclear waste, according to resolutions awaiting approval by a citizen panel the department hosts.

The SRS Citizens Advisory Board will vote on the resolutions, approved by committees, when the whole group meets July 25-26. Passing the resolutions would support South Carolina’s position.

The Palmetto State is suing the DOE for missing a deadline in federal law to process nuclear material generated by SRS itself, and the state opposes storing additional material at the site.

Regarding the proposal to import the German spent fuel, the Nuclear Materials Committee agreed at its meeting Tuesday that the DOE should take no action.

“Even if predicted environmental effects may be small, they still represent an unwarranted additional environmental risk to citizens in the Central Savannah River Area,” the draft recommendation said. “The proposal will unnecessarily add to an already large burden of indefinite (spent nuclear fuel) and high-level radioactive waste storage at SRS with no established path for disposal.”

The DOE doesn’t comment on the board’s recommendations before they’re voted on. It did provide a statement about how SRS has capabilities for handling spent nuclear fuel that is mixed with graphite.

“The Department of Energy understands that acceptance of this fuel could generate interest by other countries in sending graphite-based (highly enriched uranium) irradiated material to the U.S.,” the statement said. “The department’s approach to these interests would be considered on a case-by-case basis.”

The committee also doesn’t want to see SRS designated as an interim storage site for nuclear material because it’s convinced that inaction will effectively make it a long-term storage site.

“It is unreasonable to assume that any commitment to a date 35 years in the future will be honored by DOE, given their poor track record for planning and project management,” the waste-siting resolution said.

Another committee, meeting Wednesday, expressed frustration with the department. The Waste Management Committee is putting before the full board a resolution complaining about missed deadlines. It says that in 2015 the department has completed just 93 of the planned 156 canisters of liquid waste vitrification and that the saltstone process treated only 828,000 of the 1.2 million gallons of waste.

“Given that milestones have been missed, review and revised their process on how clean-up goals are set and by what means they will be implemented, so that they can more accurately present clean-up timelines to meet commitments made to the States of South Carolina and Georgia,” the resolution said.

It also urged the department to press Congress for the necessary funds to get the cleanup process back on schedule.

The recommendations might not have much impact. That’s because the board’s mission is to offer safety and community-relations recommendations about environmental cleanup at and around the site, and the administration considered its own decisions on these topics to be matters of national policy and foreign affairs.

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