The US would begin operating a deep geologic repository for high-level radioactive waste and used nuclear fuel by 2048 under a new strategy announced by the Department of Energy (DOE).
The DOE has released a report outlining its strategy for addressing proposals of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. The commission was set up by president Barack Obama in January 2010 to provide recommendations for developing a long-term solution to managing the nation’s nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel.
The DOE strategy report recommends building a pilot storage facility with limited capacity that would temporarily store used nuclear fuel, initially from reactors that already have been shut down. That facility would open in2021.
A full-scale temporary storage facility would be built, to open in 2025, that would “provide flexibility” in meeting the federal commitment to accept used commercial nuclear fuel.
The government would also work towards finding a site and having a permanent geological repository available by 2048.
The strategy says legislation would be needed “in the near term” to allow siting, design and licensing work to begin.
The strategy is needed after the Obama administration stopped work towards constructing a deep geologic repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
In a joint statement, the US Nuclear Energy Institute, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and the Nuclear Waste Strategy Coalition, said the DOE’s proposals were “a positive step towards creating a sustainable used fuel management programme for both commercial used nuclear fuel and defence radioactive waste”.
However, the statement said the Obama administration must work with Congress on near-term actions, including “ending the misuse” of the country’s Nuclear Waste Fund.
The fund, which was created in 1983 to finance the federal government’s programme to manage used nuclear fuel, is paid for by users of nuclear- generated electricity through a monthly surcharge on their electric bills.
The DOE said it will ask Congress to approve the package of proposals. The DOE said it is already involved in “activities authorised by Congress” to plan for the eventual transportation, storage, and disposal of used nuclear fuel.
“These activities are designed to not limit the options of either the administration or Congress and could be transferred to the new waste management and disposal organisation when it is established,” a statement said.
According to the strategy document, more than 68,000 metric tonnes heavy metal (MTHM) of used nuclear fuel are stored at 72 commercial power plants around the US, with about 2,000 MTHM added to that amount every year.