Within minutes and meters of each other Monday afternoon, an anti-nuclear activist and a politician so pro-nuclear he's been dubbed Senator MOX, spoke out on spent nuclear fuel storage – and agreed.
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., spoke on a blustery Laurens Street in downtown Aiken, while Dr. Jeff Patterson spoke at the Aiken Municipal Building at a Don't Waste Aiken-sponsored event.
While the arguments they use to reach their conclusions vary dramatically, neither wants the Savannah River Site to become a storage site – in the short- or long-term – for spent nuclear fuel from sites around the country.
The opinion is not a rare one, as Department of Energy officials suggested at the March meeting of the Governor's Nuclear Advisory Committee that SRS should not store the nation's spent fuel.
“We're not going to be storage facility for nuclear fuel or other long-term facility,” Graham said. “We are a treatment facility. We can reprocess, we can do the MOX program where we create commercial-grade fuel to ship out to be used in reactors. We are cleaning up the tanks, ... but we are not a place to store nuclear materials.”
Anti-nuclear activist Patterson is a physician and professor at the University of Wisconsin's School of Medicine and Public Health. However, Patterson is also accomplished as a nuclear opponent.
Patterson is a past president and current director of Physicians for Social Responsibility – a large physician-led organization working “to protect the public from the threats of nuclear proliferation,” climate change and environmental hazards.
Patterson, who specializes in the study of the effects of radiation, believes all SNF currently in wet storage – i.e. in casks submerged in water pools – should be moved to dry storage immediately, and then should be stored at the 100-plus sites where the fuel assemblies are currently housed.
“It is important to stress that the (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) could rule today that all used fuel must be moved into dry storage,” he said. “This is a crisis, and the NRC could alter this acute situation.”
This is the same opinion reached by Robert Alvarez, who Don't Waste Aiken commissioned to author a study on alternate options for SNF storage.
Graham does not want SNF stored at SRS, but he sees a major role for the DOE-owned site.
“The missions for SRS is R&D, developing new technologies to improve how you would reprocess fuel,” he said. “In the next decade, there is going to be a breakthrough. We must put a lot of emphasis on R&D.”
Graham hopes that the Savannah River National Laboratory would be at the forefront of developing new technologies that would see the current technology of reprocessing nuclear materials made obsolete, and then the new technology be built and run at SRS.
“We need one on the West Coast and one here,” he said.
The reprocessing plant plan would see fuel rods brought in, and much of the material returned to commercial reactors, with the residue going to a geological repository.
The hope of new technology arriving is one maligned by those looking for a concrete strategy to be in place and opponents of reprocessing.
“The nuke industry has been telling us that since the inception of it,” Paterson said. “We don't know that, it is wishful thinking.”
Graham's hypothetical would also increase the transportation of spent fuel, something environmentalists are greatly concerned with.
“By moving it, we are going to have to move it again,” Patterson said.
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