Already a major disposal site for nuclear waste from the manufacture of Cold War weapons, Savannah River Site can expect consideration for the “interim” disposal of radioactive material originally slated for Yucca Mountain. A citizens advisory board for SRS should reject that notion when it meets Monday.
While the board isn’t responding to a specific proposal to bring more waste to SRS, the likelihood of interim disposal is all too real. President Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission on American’s Nuclear Future last year cited interim storage as a solution to the federal government’s responsibilities for handling high-level nuclear waste.
An consolidated interim site would ease the government’s responsibility to deal with the mounting volume of commercial waste that the feds are committed to manage for the long term.
Yucca Mountain, Nev., was supposed to provide a permanent disposal site, and the federal government had spent $15 billion preparing it when the Obama administration pulled the plug on it.
President Obama subsequently named a Blue Ribbon Commission to consider other solutions.
The commission concluded that existing on-site storage would be adequate for the present and cited interim storage at a central site as a solution down the road. In doing so, the commission underscored the importance of hearing from local communities about interim disposal of high-level waste before making a commitment.
So the citizens advisory board, composed of South Carolina and Georgia residents who live near SRS, would do well to put the federal government on notice.
Besides the “no waste” option, the board is expected to consider supporting additional waste disposal, assuming there would be some benefit attached.
That could include, for example, the possibility of a reprocessing facility for high-level waste. Such a project would provide new investment and jobs.
The citizens group would do better to say that enough is enough, considering the extent to which Savannah River Site already has accommodated the disposal of defense waste. For example, SRS agreed to take 34 tons of weapons grade plutonium for conversion into mixed-oxide fuel that can be used in commercial reactors. The process would render the material unusable for weapons, as part of a nuclear non-proliferation agreement between the U.S. and Russia.
But the MOX facility could be jeopardized by cost overruns. If it isn’t built, SRS could end up providing long-term storage for that additional waste stream, as well as the waste already generated on site.
Once nuclear waste is brought to SRS, it can be expected to remain indefinitely, absent a permanent repository at Yucca Mountain.
SRS was designed as a production facility, not a waste dump. The citizens committee should tell the administration just that with a preemptive rejection of any more waste disposal plans.
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