The national dilemma over the fate of spent nuclear fuel could be resolved with interim storage, followed by a carefully planned “geologic repository,” according to a new report issued by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
“The Administration supports the development of a pilot interim storage facility with an initial focus on accepting used nuclear fuel from shut-down reactor sites,” Chu said, in an Energy Department response to recommendations from a Blue Ribbon Committee empaneled to explore new strategies.
The nation’s spent fuel 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. That material remains stored at the nation’s 104 commercial power reactors.
A key difference between future and past disposal efforts involves a greater reliance on community sentiment in areas vetted for nuclear waste storage or spent fuel disposal.
“In practical terms, this means encouraging communities to volunteer to be considered to host a nuclear waste management facility while also allowing for the waste management organization to approach communities that it believes can meet the siting requirements,” Chu said, noting that such facilities would bring an economic benefit to those areas.
Although Chu’s report does not mention specific locations, Savannah River Site in South Carolina has been mentioned among areas that could be considered for a pilot facility to demonstrate interim storage capabilities.
Jim Giusti, a Department of Energy spokesman at the site, said there is no behind-the-scenes plan or proposal to involve SRS.
“We’re not pushing to become an interim storage site, but we’re going to be part of any discussion that comes up simply because we are 310 square miles of land with security and nuclear expertise,” he said. “I don’t think the department can look at things like this but not include us.”
If any proposal emerged in the future, he added, the enhanced attention to community sentiment would increase transparency of the process.
Chu wrote that the administration supports a waste management system with an initial pilot interim storage facility, followed by a larger, consolidated interim facility – possibly co-located with the pilot project.
Eventually, the goal would be to create a permanent geologic repository for the disposal of used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste, such as the vitrified defense waste processed and stored at SRS.
Preliminary site investigations for a geologic repository could be initiated within 10 years, the report said.
“The Administration’s goal is to have a repository sited by 2026; the site characterized, and the repository designed and licensed by 2042; and the repository constructed and its operations started by 2048.”