Tuesday, December 08, 2009

General Accounting Office Findings on Nuclear Waste Storage

The General Accounting Office (GAO) has presented findings (not recommendations) in a new report on the storage of nuclear waste. The report, "NUCLEAR WASTE MANAGEMENT: Key Attributes, Challenges, and Costs for the Yucca Mountain Repository and Two Potential Alternatives," includes the following findings:

- The construction of a geologic repository at Yucca Mountain would provide a permanent solution for nuclear waste that could allow the government to begin taking possession of the nuclear waste in 10 to 30 years.

- Centralized storage at two locations provides an alternative that could be implemented within 10 to 30 years, allowing more time to consider final disposal options.

- On-site storage would provide an alternative requiring little change from the status quo, but would face increasing challenges over time.

- Extended on-site storage could introduce possible risks to the safety and security of the waste as the storage systems degrade and the waste decays, potentially requiring new maintenance and security measures. GAO estimated the 2009 present value cost of on-site storage of 153,000 metric tons at the end of 100 years to range from $13 billion to $34 billion but increasing to between $20 billion and $97 billion with final geologic disposal.

- Reprocessing nuclear waste could potentially reduce, but not eliminate, the amount of waste for disposal.

- The consensus of the international scientific community is that geologic disposal is the preferred long-term nuclear waste management alternative.


- On March 1, President Obama's new energy secretary, Steven Chu, announced intentions to scrap Yucca Mountain in favor of convening a panel of experts to explore other options. - In November, the SRS Community Reuse Organization released a paper calling for more conversation about what might happen next, and whether SRS will play a role in waste disposition.

- Earlier this week, a Government Accountability Office report said that two centralized storage sites could be an alternative to Yucca Mountain and that longer-term storage at existing sites could buy time until a permanent solution is found.


In June 2008, the U.S. Energy Department delivered a formal application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build the nation's first national repository for high-level radioactive waste at Nevada's Yucca Mountain. The 8,600-page application represents a $13.5 billion taxpayer investment spanning two decades. If it is built, radioactive material stored at 80 temporary sites in 35 states -- including Savannah River Site -- would have a permanent resting place.


The Center supports Yucca Mountain as the singular repository for the nation's nuclear waste. We support reprocessing at Yucca Mountain. We oppose the two alternative site findings by GAO. We promote, through the Nuclear Fuels Reprocessing Coaltion (NFRC), moving nuclear waste management out of DOE and into a newly created Nuclear Waste Management Agency. (Augusta Chronicle, 12/7/09, photo: Center President Norris McDonald at Yucca Mountain in 2003)

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