More spent fuel is coming

Savannah River Site has been cleared to accept an additional 1.1 metric tons of spent nuclear reactor fuel from foreign research reactors under a program designed to prevent such material from falling into the hands of terrorists.

The material -- containing enriched uranium -- would come from reactors in more than a dozen nations and could be shipped to SRS by rail or truck after being offloaded from ships at the Charleston, S.C., Naval Weapons Station, according to a notice published Friday in the Federal Register.

Research reactors are smaller facilities typically operated by universities or scientific research centers, said Jim Giusti, a U.S. Energy Department spokesman.

"Before any of that material can be shipped, they must first explore commercial disposal sites prior to considering SRS," he said.

SRS was cleared in 1996 to accept as much as 19 metric tons of spent nuclear reactor fuel under two existing non-proliferation programs, he said, but the research reactor material was not covered.

To be eligible for disposal at SRS, the new material must meet four criteria: it must pose a threat to national security, be susceptible to use in an improvised nuclear device, pose a risk of a terrorist threat and be vulnerable to theft or diversion.

Federal authorities evaluated the material's potential effects on health and safety and concluded there are no additional risks.

Mr. Giusti said only a fraction of the 19 tons of material previously approved for shipment to SRS has actually been stored there.

"Since 1996 they have made a total of 46 shipments, of which 36 went to SRS," he said.

Those shipments included 202 casks of material; the additional 1.1 tons would add about 77 casks.

The Federal Register notice did not include dates for the shipments.

Tom Clements, the southeast nuclear campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth, said the material could be three or four shipments.

"It is usually brought in without advance announcement, and generally they only answer questions about it once it's already on site," he said.

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

Further reading: "Supplement Analysis for the U.S. Disposition of Spent Nuclear Fuel" www.gc.energy.gov/NEPA/documents/EIS-218-SA-4_1-13-09.pdf">style="italic">www.gc.energy.gov/NEPA/documents/EIS-218-SA-4_1-13-09.pdf Source: US Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration