Storing and reprocessing the nation’s spent nuclear fuel at Savannah River Site would require widespread public support to be successful, according to a report unveiled Wednesday.
“Community support and consensus building must begin with elected community officials who are well versed in the subject matter,” wrote consultant Tim Frazier, who led a $200,000 study commissioned by the SRS Community Reuse Organization, an economic development consortium.
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 Obama administration, whose Blue Ribbon Commission later suggested “consolidated, interim storage” of the dangerous material until a better solution can be found.
Frazier, who served as the Blue Ribbon Commission’s federal officer, said the South Carolina site’s H Canyon processing facilities and long history of nuclear involvement make it a suitable site for such storage.
“Consolidated storage would start with the spent nuclear fuel currently in South Carolina and Georgia and, if successful, could expand to include the remainder of the 20,000 metric tons of spent fuel in the southeastern U.S.,” the report said, adding that subsequent phases could accommodate more spent fuel from Virginia and northeastern states.
In addition to storing the radioactive material, SRS might also be a suitable venue to explore reprocessing of such wastes.
However, a storage site alone – without reprocessing facilities – would not provide significant economic benefits, said Rick McLeod, the executive director of the community reuse organization.
“Just a concrete pad with a bunch of canisters of spent fuel isn’t what we were interested in,” McLeod said. “If that pad came with economic opportunities, job creation benefits, research and development it’s different. I don’t think, anywhere, you’ll see just a pad put down for consolidated storage without looking at some of these other issues.”
Frazier’s study estimated that a reprocessing facility capable of handling 800 metric tons per year could create almost 1,698 jobs with a $239 million annual economic impact.
“The region has many assets that can be marshaled to facilitate a national solution,” Frazier said. “The study assumes that any plan to bring fuel cycle activities, including research, development and demonstration, to the region would utilize H-Canyon and other capabilities at the Savannah River Site.”
Storage and reprocessing would generate jobs and economic benefits, while also creating risks that must be considered.
“Community involvement should be focused on addressing the risks, both perceived real, associated with fuel cycle activities – including the risks of transportation, radioactive material release, and possible acts of terrorism,” the report said. “Conversely, the community needs to fully evaluate and understand the substantial benefits that the community will realize, primarily in the form of new skilled jobs and incremental economic revenues.”
The study also noted that the Department of Energy and Secretary Steven Chu have called for “consent-based” siting of nuclear waste facilities.
“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, in a report to Congress in January.
Frazier’s report highlighted the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico as a success story and potential model.
“WIPP benefited from an increasingly supportive host community, and a state that was willing to participate in discussions with the host community and Department of Energy,” he wrote, adding that such support was in stark contrast to Yucca Mountain, which was killed by political opposition.
“Getting the community involved in the preliminary planning stages of any effort to establish fuel cycle facilities is important,” he said, adding thatwhile federal regulators will influence the decisions, the final say will likely depend on South Carolina’s state government.
Frazier concluded the region should support and pursue establishing facilities in South Carolina.
“Clearly – as this study’s economic model shows – there are substantial economic benefits – jobs, tax revenues and additional compensation – to siting a reprocessing facility in the region,” he said.
The study was designed to provide regional leaders with information to determine what role the area might play in nuclear waste solutions, McLeod said, but is not a formal proposal.
“At this point, the study represents the first exploratory, fact-based, look at the issues associated with our region’s involvement in managing the back-end of the fuel cycle,” McLeod said. “The question is: does it make sense for us to get involved? If so, what are the terms and conditions of our involvement?”
The organization serves Aiken, Allendale and Barnwell counties in South Carolina and Richmond and Columbia counties in Georgia.