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Nukes Globally and in Eleven Localities

On November 29, 2006, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced that Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) siting grants totaling up to $16 million (with $4 million in reserve) would be awarded in 11 localities – six DOE sites and five non-DOE sites. The actual awards are being negotiated and the grants will be made in early 2007. The grantees will then have 90 days to complete a detailed study of their site. The information from the site studies will be used by DOE in its GNEP environmental impact statement (EIS).

Even if the awards are granted, the future of the GNEP local sites, the EIS process, and congressional support for GNEP are highly uncertain. While the Bush administration remains strongly in favor of GNEP, there are not a lot of other public supporters. And some of the localities that are now considered part of GNEP say they had little or no information and have not been able to effectively participate in the process. Public opposition is building at many of the sites, as well as to the GNEP siting process.

For the past 20 years, various communities have been targeted or have “volunteered” as the nation’s commercial spent fuel storage location. None of the sites have gone forward, even though one, the Private Fuel Storage Site in Utah, was licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on February 21, 2006. But continuing local and state opposition has also killed that site. The GNEP site would not only store virtually all of the nation’s commercial spent fuel, perhaps for a 100 years or more. But it could also be a “Consolidated Fuel Treatment Center” or reprocessing plant to extract uranium and transuranic elements from the spent fuel. And the site would also likely be the site for the Advanced Burner Reactor (ABR), a new reactor that would use as fuel some of the elements extracted from the spent fuel during reprocessing. The reprocessing plant and ABR would use commercial-scale technologies that do not currently exist, and would certainly cost more than $100 billion. Whether future Congresses would appropriate such funding and whether the technologies would work makes those two facilities highly speculative. Thus, if a local site is chosen, it would most likely be a long-term spent fuel storage site, as the Yucca Mountain, Nevada repository site remains years behind schedule.

In January, the new Congress may look at GNEP and will decide what level of funding it will receive for the rest of Fiscal Year 2007. In February, the Bush proposed budget for 2008 will be submitted to Congress, and will likely include substantial increased funding. For Fiscal Year 2006, Congress provided $79.2 million for the “Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative” (GNEP), and funded a “Integrated spent fuel recycling” program not included in the Bush Budget request. Congress appropriated $50 million for the program, including $20 million for the local siting grants (with a maximum of $5 million per site). The $30 million not for the siting grants was for DOE “to develop a spent nuclear fuel recycling plan” and for the EIS process. In 2006, Congress did not pass a DOE Budget for Fiscal Year 2007; instead a “Continuing Resolution” will fund DOE, providing continuing funding at approximately the level in FY2006, less the $50 million for the spent fuel program.

In passing its version of the FY2007 DOE Budget, the House was highly critical of some aspects of GNEP. The House Appropriations Committee originated the idea of the local siting studies and spent fuel program. On May 19, 2006, the Committee reported the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill, 2007. The Committee stated that it

has serious reservations about the GNEP as proposed by the Administration. The overriding concern is simply that the Department of Energy has failed to provide sufficient detailed information to enable Congress to understand fully all aspects of this initiative, including the cost, schedule, technology development plan, and waste streams from GNEP.…the GNEP proposal differs in several significant aspects from what the conferees directed last year, and the GNEP proposal falls short in a number of critical areas.

There is no mention of the requirements that these facilities be integrated and co-located at a single site, nor (as is detailed below) is there any mention of the need for interim storage as part of an integrated recycling complex.

Interim Storage.—In the Committee’s view, any such integrated spent fuel recycling facility must be capable of accumulating sufficient volumes of spent fuel to provide efficient operation of the facility. A first test of any site’s willingness to receive into the interim storage spent fuel in dry casks that provide safe storage of the spent fuel for 50 to 100 years or longer. In this Committee’s view, if any site refuses to provide interim storage as needed to support the operation of an integrated recycling facility, at whatever scale, then that site should be eliminated from all further consideration under GNEP.

Seven are local entities. All but one entity from the DOE sites are existing local economic development groups (at Hanford, Idaho, Oak Ridge, Paducah, and SRS). The Piketon Initiative for Nuclear Independence, LLC was created to apply for GNEP funding. One of the private sites also has a newly formed limited liability corporation to request GNEP siting funds (Eddy Lea Energy Alliance).

Two major international corporations – General Electric (GE) and Energy Solutions – are designated for the other four siting grants. GE’s Morris, IL site is near the Dresden Nuclear Plants, and was constructed as a reprocessing plant in the early 1970s. The Morris Plant never operated, because reprocessing did not function economically or in an environmental safe way at another site at West Valley, NY during that time and because federal policy turned against reprocessing, primarily because of concerns about proliferation of nuclear materials.

Energy Solutions is a rapidly expanding nuclear corporation, which owns and operates the Envirocare low-level waste disposal site in Utah, and says it’s the nation’s “largest transporter of radioactive material – more than 300 shipments each month.” Companies it acquired have had contracts at DOE sites, including Fernald, Hanford, Idaho, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Paducah, Portsmouth, and SRS. It also says that it is has existing reprocessing technology (the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing (THORP) in Sellafield, Britain). The company is very favorably inclined to GNEP and has a “What is GNEP” button on its home page.

However, the three Energy Solutions sites are different – two (Atomic City, ID and Roswell (Triassic Park), NM) are private sites with no particular known characteristics favorable to GNEP, and they haven’t previously been identified for any nuclear projects. On the other hand, the Barnwell, SC site has the Allied General Nuclear Services (AGNS) facility, which was constructed beginning in 1970, as a reprocessing plant. The AGNS facility, like the GE-Morris site, was constructed but never used because the federal government stopped supporting reprocessing.

Each of the six DOE sites have been in existence for more than 50 years. Three (Hanford, Idaho, SRS) carried out reprocessing for plutonium and uranium for nuclear weapons, and each site has substantial amounts of contamination from that reprocessing, cleanup of which will continue for decades. Three (Oak Ridge, Paducah, Piketon) are uranium enrichment facilities and have substantial amounts of waste and contamination that has not been cleaned up.

The five private sites, include two (Barnwell, SC and Morris, IL) where reprocessing plants were constructed more than 30 years ago. One (Atomic City, ID) seems to have applied primarily because of its proximity to Idaho National Lab. The two New Mexico sites have no nuclear facilities or experience. Gandy-Marley has only one facility – the Triassic Park Waste Disposal Facility (about 40 miles east of Roswell) – a New Mexico-permitted hazardous waste facility (radioactive wastes are prohibited). It received its operating permit in 2002, but has never operated or received any waste. The Eddy Lea Energy Alliance has an option for about two years to purchase the location that will be used for the siting study.

Because DOE has refused to release the grantee’s proposals, even in truncated form, the specific locations being proposed are not always clearly identified publicly. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request for the Paducah application, DOE denied the request based on the application being under the “Trade Secret” exemption.

The DOE Funding Opportunity Announcement required:

  • the location to be at least 300 contiguous acres for one facility and at least 500 contiguous acres for both facilities.
  • the site must allow facilities to be above the 100-year flood plain,
  • an electric transmission line that can provide at least 13 kilovolts must be available within 10 miles of the site,
  • population density out to 20 miles cannot exceed 500 persons per square mile
  • if applicable, zoning must allow heavy industrial use
  • road access capable of 80,000-pound loads must be within five miles
  • no significant seismic events can have occurred at the site
  • reliable water supplies must be available.

Non-DOE sites and DOE sites were to be evaluated separately. The three criteria for Non-DOE sites were:

  • relevance and extent of the Applicant’s capabilities and experience in conducting nuclear siting studies and experience of key personnel in performing those studies (40 points)
  • suitability and availability of the site data to ensure that the study could be completed within 90 days of the award (50 points)
  • applicant’s capabilities to identify stakeholder support or concerns (10 points)

Criteria for the DOE site were:

  • Applicants capability to provide the regulatory and permitting requirements for the GNEP facility (80 points)
  • Applicant’s capability to identify stakeholder support or concerns (20 points)

In its November 29 announcement, DOE did not specifically state that each site met all of the requirements. Since Triassic Park is 480-acres, it does not appear to meet the minimum size requirement for both facilities.

If the awards are granted, each of the studies could be substantially different. There is much available information about the DOE sites regarding the kinds of environmental information needed for an EIS. In contrast, there is little existing information about the two New Mexico and Atomic City, ID locations. So the study should have to provide much new detail about the site and its characteristics. The Morris, IL and Barnwell, SC sites were analyzed 30 years ago, but some updating will be necessary.

At some sites, there is likely to be considerable public controversy about the study and attempts may be made to try to include information on community opposition as part of the study or in some other form.

DOE would then have to determine whether it will include all 11 sites in the EIS or whether it will limit the sites or add any other DOE sites.

On January 4, 2007, DOE announced in the Federal Register that it would prepare a programmatic EIS (PEIS) for GNEP, which would include scoping meetings at the 11 sites and in Washington, DC between February 13 and March 19, 2007. The DOE announcement also added two additional DOE sites – Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, and the Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico – for an “advanced fuel cycle research facility.” Four other DOE sites – Hanford, INL, Oak Ridge, and SRS – would also be considered for the research facility. DOE expects to have a draft PEIS for public comment in 2007 and a final PEIS in 2008. After the final PEIS is issued, DOE would select one or more sites for the interim storage/reprocessing and ABR and a site for the research facility.

For the Bush administration, GNEP is part of its support for nuclear power worldwide. The Yucca Mountain, Nevada repository site is also an essential element, as there is no disposal place for the more than 53,000 tons of spent fuel at the nation’s 103 nuclear reactors. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 stated that a repository would begin accepting that spent fuel in 1998. The nuclear utilities have filed many lawsuits, pointing out that the government has not met that commitment and asking for billions of dollars in damages.

As in 2006, there will likely be legislative efforts in 2007 to address Yucca Mountain, in which the administration wants new legislation to streamline many existing requirements. Some in Congress would like some limits on the present unlimited amounts of liability that the government faces for not accepting spent fuel, so having an interim storage site may appear to be an alternative to meet the legal timeframe more quickly and to have the federal government taken ownership and possession of the commercial spent fuel.

Any such legislation will be controversial, and Congressional action on nuclear waste over the past 25 years has been infrequent and not very successful. For example, the “Screw Nevada” legislation in 1987 did not speed up operation of the repository, as it was supposed to do, but rather fueled opposition in Nevada, as the political nature of the siting decision by Congress was apparent.

Atomic City, ID EnergySolutions, LLC
Barnwell, SC EnergySolutions, LLC
Roswell, NM EnergySolutions, LLC
Hobbs, NM Eddy Lea Energy Alliance
Morris, IL General Electric
Hanford, WA Tri-City Industrial Development Council/Columbia Basin Consulting Group
Idaho National Lab Regional Development Alliance, Inc.
Oak Ridge, TN Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee
Paducah, KY Paducah Uranium Plant Asset Utilization, Inc.
Portsmouth, OH Piketon Initiative for Nuclear Independence, LLC

Savannah River Site

Economic Development Partnership of Aiken and
Edgefield Counties

Regarding what to do about the current situation in which spent fuel remains in long-term storage at reactors and will remain there in some large quantities for at least several decades and, given the fact that Yucca Mountain is considered to be a flawed, unusable site, many citizen groups have supported “Principles for Safeguarding Nuclear Waste at Reactors.” Those Principles advocate various safety enhancements at power plants, both in the spent fuel pools, and with “hardened on-site storage” (HOSS). HOSS storage will be near the surface and would not be permanent storage. Such facilities would be at the reactor site or as close as possible. While the spent fuel would remain at the power plants, it would be better contained and much better able to withstand accidents or terrorist attacks.

The nuclear waste conundrum continues, as does the national politics that has yet to come up with a successful policy. Geologic disposal at Yucca Mountain is, if anything, farther off in the future. Just like Congress picked Yucca Mountain in 1987 for political reasons, in 2007, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid from Nevada is a strong opponent of Yucca Mountain, making its political viability even less strong. Interim storage sites, whether promoted by Congress, DOE, or private utilities have never succeeded.

What to do about commercial spent fuel will again likely be considered in legislation. Whether GNEP, and its commercial interim storage component, directly becomes central to that debate remains to be seen. Certainly some of the 11 GNEP sites may be promoted for commercial spent fuel storage, though that idea will create a lot of opposition at many of those sites.

– Don Hancock


The federal government’s official GNEP website:

“Principles for Safeguarding Nuclear Waste at Reactors” is available:

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“We, the Peoples gathered at the Indigenous World Uranium Summit, at this critical time of intensifying nuclear threats to Mother Earth and all life, demand a worldwide ban on uranium mining, processing, enrichment, fuel use, and weapons testing and deployment, and nuclear waste dumping on Native Lands.”

—Declaration of the Indigenous World Uranium Summit December 2, 2006

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