The US Department of Energy (DOE) on 30 November issued a request for information on a consent-based siting process that would be used to identify sites to store US used nuclear fuel.
The information will be used to further develop DOE’s consent-based siting process and overall waste management strategy in an equitable way. DOE said: “Nuclear energy is essential to achieving the Administration’s goals to create a carbon pollution-free?power?sector by?2035?and net zero emissions economy by 2050. Managing waste not only makes nuclear a more sustainable option but also helps fulfil DOE’s obligation to manage the nation’s spent nuclear fuel.”
This is the first move towards putting in place a disposal plan since 2009 when President Barack Obama cur funding for the Yucca Mountain repository project and declared it "not an option". The NRC terminated licensing activities for the repository in 2010-11 following concerns about its safety. Under the US 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, DOE was responsible for opening a disposal site by 1998 and began collecting a Nuclear Waste Fund from utility contributions to pay for it. An amendment in 1987 specified Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the sole disposal site. DOE subsequently had to repay utilities' costs from the Nuclear Waste Fund, which contains tens of billions of dollars ring-fenced for used fuel management only.
There is now a total of about 86,000 tonnes of used nuclear fuel stored at 75 operating or shutdown nuclear plants in 33 states, according to the US General Accounting Office. The new request for information and draft siting process is for interim storage rather than potential repository sites. Responses must be received by 4 March 2022.
“Hearing from and then working with communities interested in hosting one of these facilities is the best way to finally solve the nation’s spent nuclear fuel management issues,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M Granholm. “We know there are real benefits from jobs to new infrastructure that will result in interest in areas across the country. The public’s input is central to identifying those locations to make this process as inclusive and effective as possible.”
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Dr Kathryn Huff said: “I’m extremely excited about restarting the consent-based siting process. DOE is committed to responsibly managing the nation’s spent nuclear fuel and willing communities have the right to explore the benefits and conditions they need to host a federal interim storage facility.”
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 passed by Congress provides funding and directs DOE to move forward with interim storage to support near-term action in managing used fuel. DOE said it is “committed to the consent-based siting approach that makes communities and people central in the process to give the nation its best chance at success in solving the nation’s decades-long stalemate over how to effectively manage our spent nuclear fuel”. DOE added that it especially encourages feedback from people, communities, and groups that historically have not been represented in these discussions.