DOE Eyes Permanent Nuclear Waste Repository by 2048

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration on Friday set 2048 as the goal for opening a permanent geologic repository for the nation’s growing stock of nuclear waste. That would come half a century past the time when the now-canceled Yucca Mountain site in Nevada was to have begun accepting such dangerous materials.

In releasing the 14-page report, the Energy Department formally gave its support to the major 2012 findings of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, which called for speedy and simultaneous work on at least one stop-gap central holding site and a minimum of one long-term repository site.

The DOE strategy would initially emphasize establishing just one permanent and one interim full-scale storage site in addition to a limited-size pilot project for temporary holding of waste from shuttered reactors. However, the department said its storage objectives would be pursued according to a “consent-based siting process” that might eventually lead to the creation of multiple permanent repositories.

The Energy Department agreed with the White House-convened blue ribbon panel in faulting the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act for authorizing the imposition of a permanent repository on an area without the consent of the surrounding community.

President Obama’s decision early in his first term to throw out a decades-old plan to build a permanent repository inside Yucca Mountain was opposed by a number of states that had anticipated sending their nuclear waste to the underground dump. The move, though, was welcomed by Nevada residents and lawmakers.

“The administration understands the need for the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a set of generic, non-site specific repository safety standards to gain public confidence that any future repository will protect public health and the environment,” the report reads. “This will be an important early step in any repository siting effort.”

Going forward, the administration’s policy will be to encourage “communities to volunteer to be considered to host a nuclear waste management facility while also allowing for the waste management organization to approach communities that it believes can meet the siting requirements.”

“The objective is to implement a flexible waste management system incrementally in order to ensure safe and secure operations, gain trust among stakeholders, and adapt operations based on lessons learned,” the DOE strategy states.

At present, there is in excess of 68,000 metric tons of used atomic fuel held in temporary storage at 72 civilian energy plants across the country, with some 2,000 additional tons being added annually. Roughly four-fifths of U.S. atomic waste is kept in water-filled basins with the remainder held in dry casks. Another 2,500 tons of nuclear waste from the country’s strategic weapons program is stored at government-operated facilities.

The Energy Department would seek to by 2021 design, license, construct and open a pilot storage site, and by 2025 to open a full-scale interim facility that can store enough of the nation’s atomic waste to “reduce expected government liabilities,” according to the strategy.

The strategy set out a timeline of 2026 for selecting at least one permanent geological repository site, 2042 for design plans and licensing to be complete, and 2048 for the facility to be operational.

It might not take until 2048 to open the permanent repository, according to Bob Halstead, director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects. "With luck and hard work, it is probably possible to trim 10 years off that," he said in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Some members of Congress criticized the DOE strategy for not giving any consideration to reviving the Yucca Mountain option. “The Blue Ribbon Commission emphasized the need for a long-term storage repository, and Yucca Mountain remains the most viable and thoroughly studied option,” wrote House Energy Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R –Ill.) in a joint statement.

 

January 14, 2013
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WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration on Friday set 2048 as the goal for opening a permanent geologic repository for the nation’s growing stock of nuclear waste. That would come half a century past the time when the now-canceled Yucca Mountain site in Nevada was to have begun accepting such dangerous materials.

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