In January The U.S. Department of Energy adopted a new policy for the storage of nuclear waste, embarking on a plan to build two new interim storage sites and a new permanent storage facility. On Thursday, a General Accounting Office official told Congress this policy may be illegal.
“Provisions in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, as amended, that allow DOE to arrange for centralized interim storage have either expired or are unusable because they are tied to milestones in repository development that have not been met.”
Rusco’s testimony lends credence to critics who say DOE really has no intention of following the policy, but is using it to fend off lawsuits from reactor operators and stall until better storage and recycling technologies develop.
And the government may have tipped its hand at times by emphasizing that the nation’s 70,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel is perfectly safe where it is—in wet pools and dry casks dispersed at reactor sites across the country.
But a lack of legal authority is not the only obstacle impeding the new policy, according to Rusco:
- Local and State Opposition: “Even if a community might be willing to host such a facility, finding a state that would be willing to host it could be extremely challenging, particularly since some states have voiced concerns that a centralized interim facility could become a de facto permanent disposal site,” Rusco said. The Western Governor’s Association, representing 19 Western states and 3 pacific islands, laid down the gauntlet in 2011 when it passed a resolution insisting that no waste facility may be opened in a Western state without the consent of the governor.
- Transportation: The new policy means waste has to be transported at least twice—once to an interim storage facility, and then again to the permanent one that the policy calls for in 2048. Transportation plans are expected to take a decade to finalize. And much nuclear waste is not fit for transportation. Because utilities have used dry-cask storage to maximize storage capacity, about 70 percent of the waste in dry cask storage is too hot to transport.
Read more at New U.S. Nuclear Waste Policy May Be Illegal: GAO