The Savannah River Site is an obvious candidate to help provide a solution to the management of the nation’s spent nuclear fuel, according to a study released on Wednesday. However, for SRS to perform that task successfully, community support “is vital,” the research project also concluded.
The SRS Community Reuse Organization commissioned the $200,000 study in June 2012. The nonprofit organization works to facilitate economic development in a five-county region in Georgia and South Carolina that includes Aiken County.
Rick McLeod, executive director of the Community Reuse Organization, discussed the study’s results during a telephone conference on Wednesday. Joining him was Tim Frazier of Dickstein Shapiro, a Washington D.C.-based government relations firm.
Frazier headed the study. He also is a former senior Department of Energy official who served as the designated federal officer for the DOE’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. That commission recommended “a new consent-based approach” for selecting sites for nuclear waste disposal.
The study stated, “The community needs to fully evaluate and understand the substantial benefits the community will realize, primarily in the form of new skilled jobs and economic revenues.”
In addition, the study identified the H-Canyon facility at SRS as a resource that could be used to deal with spent nuclear fuel. H-Canyon is this country’s only hardened nuclear chemical separations plant still in operation, and it “should be maintained and utilized as a viable facility,” according to the study.
Before commissioning the study, McLeod and his colleagues decided that it would not be desirable for SRS to serve merely as a storage site for dangerous waste. To provide significant economic benefits to Aiken County and the surrounding area, they determined SRS also would need to be involved in the reprocessing of the spent nuclear fuel and other activities, including research and development.
“What we’re saying is that a concrete pad with a bunch of canisters (containing spent fuel) is not what we’re interested in,” McLeod said. “But we would be interested in that, possibly, if it came with job creation opportunities and other economic benefits.”
The study estimated that a small reprocessing facility handling 800 metric tons of nuclear waste a year would create 1,698 jobs, contribute $239 million to the local economy and generate state and local tax revenue of $12 million.
“These are not construction jobs; these are long-term, steady jobs,” Frazier said.
The involvement and support of South Carolina’s state leaders also are important, McLeod said.
The nation has more than 75,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel inventory. That material and other high level radioactive waste were supposed to be buried in a repository in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. But in late 2009, the Obama Administration terminated that plan in the wake of strong opposition from state leaders and a Nevada Congressional delegation. As a result, other alternatives had to be found to manage the hazardous refuse.
The Community Reuse Organization’s next step, McLeod said, “is to get out and talk about the issue and use the study as a basis to start the dialogue. I don’t know if our role will be to actually develop a plan or proposals. We see ourselves as a facilitator to make folks aware of this issue. Hopefully the state will be involved.”
McLeod emphasized that no decisions had been made about how, or even if, SRS would be involved in storing or reprocessing nation’s spent nuclear fuel.