A federal strategy to consolidate spent nuclear fuel from the nation’s 104 commercial power reactors could send huge volumes of radioactive waste to Savannah River Site, according to a study released Thursday.
“Because of its proximity to most of the nation’s reactors, access to ports, and its nuclear material processing history, Savannah River Site in South Carolina is considered by some to be a prime candidate for the interim storage and reprocessing of spent power reactor fuel,” wrote Bob Alvarez, a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank.
The nation’s spent fuel inventory – more than 75,000 tons – was to be buried in a repository in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain until the project was halted by the administration, whose Blue Ribbon Commission suggested “consolidated, interim storage” of the dangerous material until a solution can be found.
Alvarez, a former U.S. Department of Energy adviser, calculated such a facility at SRS would likely involve “hundreds to thousands of shipments of dry canisters” moved by rail or truck.
Citing spent nuclear fuel data from the Nuclear Energy Institute, a pilot storage facility there might store as much as 5,000 metric tons containing more than 1 billion curies of intermediate and long-lived radioactive wastes, the report said.
“This (is) more than twice the radioactivity currently contained in high-level wastes stored at the SRS site, which already has the single largest concentration of radioactivity of any DOE site,” Alvarez wrote.
Though there is no official proposal to build an interim storage site at SRS, groups have acknowledged the site’s potential, and the SRS Community Reuse Organization expects to release a study this month focusing on the site’s potential
role in disposal of spent nuclear fuel.
Thursday’s report was released by a citizens group, Don’t Waste Aiken, formed to address concerns about bringing more radioactive waste to a site that already has more than its share.
“The people of Aiken are proud of our service to the country during the Cold War, but this does not mean we will consent to become the nation’s nuclear waste dump,” said Lisa Darden, a co-founder of the group. “All efforts should be made now to clean up the legacy of Cold War waste, not bring in and create a whole new generation of toxic waste.”
Another concern aired in the study involves using SRS to reprocess spent fuel, which Alvarez contends would be dirty, dangerous and expensive.
A report in January by Energy Secretary Steven Chu stated that “the administration supports development of a pilot interim storage facility with an initial focus on accepting used nuclear fuel from shutdown reactor sites,” with hopes of later finding a suitable “geologic repository.”
A key difference between future and past disposal efforts, the report added, 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, adding that such facilities would bring an economic benefit to those areas.