Originally created 05/18/06

Delay could add up

AIKEN - A potential two-year gap between technologies at Savannah River Site that can process spent nuclear fuel could cost taxpayers an estimated $300 million, according to a federal audit released Wednesday.

SRS has 12,000 radioactive spent fuel rods that are supposed to eventually be buried at a geological repository, presumably Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

The Energy Department has a chemical separations factory called H-Canyon that could process the waste for disposal, but it's supposed to decommissioned by 2010, the inspector general's report states.

The Energy Department told the inspector general's office that an alternative reprocessing facility could be complete by 2012.

But that would require maintaining H-Canyon in an idle state for two years at a cost of $150 million a year, the report says.

The inspector general's office recommended the Energy Department formally select an alternative reprocessing facility and speed up its construction to minimize the amount of time H-Canyon would have to be maintained.

In a response included with the inspector general's report, the Energy Department states that it is examining additional uses for H-Canyon that would keep it operational "well beyond" 2010.

"If such missions are quantified and approved, then DOE will not be incurring additional costs to keep H-Canyon available while an alternative capability for preparing (spent nuclear fuel) for disposal is developed," wrote Charles Anderson, an assistant secretary in the Energy Department's environmental management division.

It's also possible that spent nuclear fuel at SRS, which was used to run nuclear power plants, could be shipped directly to a geological burial ground without the processing that reduces radioactivity, Mr. Anderson wrote in the report.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.


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