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Senate to discuss how to choose nuclear waste sites

AUGUSTA — Testimony will begin next week on legislation that would create a new federal agency to manage and dispose of spent fuel from U.S. commercial nuclear plants.

The intent of the 2013 Nuclear Waste Administration Act is to implement recommendations from a blue-ribbon committee formed after the Obama administration halted a planned repository in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.

The bill, which goes before the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources July 30, outlines “consent-based” siting policies that require support of state and local governments before waste storage or processing facilities can be established.

The legislation recommends no specific locations for “consolidated interim storage” of spent nuclear fuel, but Savannah River Site in South Carolina has already been discussed as a possible venue.

In March, consultants hired by the SRS Community Reuse Organization — an economic development consortium — unveiled a $200,000 study concluding that the site’s H Canyon processing facilities and history of nuclear involvement make it suitable for such programs.

The SRS Citizens Advisory Board has become involved in similar discussions. Its narrowly divided waste management committee voted 12-10 for a position paper opposing the idea. That draft resolution is scheduled for a formal vote by the full board Tuesday.

Until a solution is found, spent fuel will continue to accumulate at commercial power plants, which now store about 75,000 tons of the material onsite in pools or above-ground casks.

According to the draft bill, the new agency would be asked to create a pilot storage facility to accept “priority waste” from non-operating reactors and later develop one or more interim storage facilities — and eventually, one or more permanent disposal repositories.

According to the study commissioned by the SRS Community Reuse Organization, the South Carolina site could fulfill the needs of an interim storage program while bringing jobs and economic benefits to the region.

“Consolidated storage would start with the spent nuclear fuel currently in South Caro­lina and Georgia and, if successful, could expand to include the remainder of the 20,000 metric tons of spent fuel in the southeastern U.S.,” the consultant’s report said. Sub­sequent phases could possibly accommodate spent fuel from Virginia and the Northeast.

In addition to creating a new agency, the bill establishes a Working Capital Fund, into which fees collected from the utilities (currently about $765 million per year) would be deposited. Those funds would be available without further appropriation, while fees already collected ($28.2 billion) would remain in the Nuclear Waste Fund, where they will continue to be subject to appropriation.

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