The Savannah River Site is likely a prime contender for storing spent nuclear fuel for decades to come, according to a report released Thursday.
The study by Robert Alvarez, a former senior adviser at the Department of Energy and professor at Johns Hopkins University, outlines the possible impact of making SRS an interim storage site for the country’s commercial nuclear power plant waste.
Recently formed environmental group Don’t Waste Aiken commissioned Alvarez, an expert on nuclear waste with Washington, D.C., think tank The Policy Institute, to produce a study outlining the impact of storing spent nuclear fuel at SRS.
Speaking at a press conference announcing his findings, Alvarez outlined the amount of radioactivity spent fuel could bring – more than double the radioactivity present at SRS currently in high-level waste could be delivered.
High level liquid waste tanks at SRS have near 280 million curies of radioactivity. Spent fuel looking to be stored could bring 1 billion curies to the DOE-owned site.
“This would be one of the largest concentrations of radioactivity in the United States in one place” Alvarez said. “I’m not questioning the ability of the people at Savannah River to handle this material. I’m really trying to give people an idea of what the implications are.”
The report also said some 2,500 shipments of high-level waste initially could travel across the nation’s highways for storage at SRS if sent by truck; however, Alvarez noted that he thought a single repository was unlikely and impractical.
Alvarez’ report will be officially released Thursday as discussion intensifies over how to deal with the nation’s growing amount of commercial power plant waste. The nation today has about 70,000 tons of spent fuel. The deadly material was originally scheduled to go to Yucca Mountain, Nev., for disposal, but President Obama canceled the project in 2010 after citing environmental concerns. Last month, the Department of Energy released a three-point plan for replacing Yucca Mountain. The plan calls for establishing an interim storage site by 2021 and a larger interim storage site by 2025. A permanent disposal ground would be available by 2048, according to the DOE.
Although there is no official proposal to build an interim storage site at SRS, the Site’s history in dealing with waste, its workforce, community support and infrastructure make it an obvious contender.
“I don’t know where there is a better site,” Alvarez said Thursday. “SRS is not the only option.”
Overall, Alvarez said that wherever the waste is stored, the safest way to store it is in dry casks that are in a large enough structure to withstand a possible seismic event. He recommended changes in law that would allow DOE to assume title over spent fuel at private reactor sites and then construct dry storage facilities there.
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