Destination(s) for SNF & HLW

The Relevance of Destinations in SNF/HLW Transport

The federal government needs a site or sites for disposal in order to fulfill its portion of the deal made in the NWPA of 1982: “the Federal Government has the responsibility to provide for the permanent disposal of high-level radioactive waste and (commercial) spent nuclear fuel…..the costs of such disposal should be the responsibility of the generators and owners of such waste and spent nuclear fuel”. (NWPA, Section 101(a)(4)) Obviously, the location of the disposal site or sites is a key determinant of the necessary transport to such sites.

The federal government needs a site or sites for off-site storage of commercial SNF in order to “accept” (or take title of and responsibility for) such waste, and to stop or slow the hemorrhaging of taxpayer funds due to its partial breach of its contract commitment under NWPA Section 303(a)(5): “in return for the payment of fees….(DOE), beginning not later than January 31, 1988, will dispose of…… high-level radioactive waste or spent nuclear fuel”. Obviously, the location of the off-site storage site or sites is a key determinant of the transport to such sites. Further, assuming that permanent disposal is provided, transport to off-site storage requires subsequent transfer for permanent disposal.[2]

Yet, efforts to site permanent disposal and off-site storage in the U.S. have largely ignored the transportation implications of siting decisions—as if the difficulty of siting is such that transportation consequences cannot be a factor in siting decisions. The 1987 decision to site a repository at Yucca Mountain is the prime example: the average shipment distance to Yucca Mountain would be 2,400 miles, including (for rail shipment) a 330-mile segment on a newly constructed, special-purpose railroad from the nearest feasible mainline railhead.[3] Federal program managers have been forced to assume that, however bizarre the transportation implications of siting decisions, the transport of SNF and HLW can be conducted safely, securely, uneventfully, and with acceptance by corridor communities, who it is hoped will not too insistently raise the questions “Why is it really necessary to transport this stuff through my community for the next 50 years?” “Since permanent disposal facilities have not yet been approved, why is it necessary to transport this stuff through my community, merely for (presumably) interim storage?” If federal program managers cannot convincingly answer these questions, they may still be able to transport safely and securely, but perhaps not uneventfully and acceptably.

In the negotiations leading to the NWPA of 1982, the location of permanent disposal facilities was a major consideration, but the discussion focused mainly on regional equity, not on transportation consequences. Western state Senators (e.g. James McClure of Idaho) and Congressmen (e.g. Morris Udall of New Mexico) were wary that all SNF—95% generated in the East—would be shipped to the West for disposal. These and other Congresspersons were also wary that offsite “interim” storage could become permanent: Having established an “interim” storage site, Congress might find, decade by passing decade, it too contentious or too expensive to provide permanent disposal.

Regarding regional equity, the NWPA’s compromise was that a first repository (limited to 70,000 MTHM of the projected 130,000) would be developed in the West, and a second in the East. To prevent a federal interim storage facility from becoming permanent, the NWPA provided (in Section 145(b)) that “DOE may not select (a Monitored Retrievable Storage) site….until (it) recommends to the President the approval of a site for development as a repository”.

In 1987, Congress reneged on its commitments of 1982, and triggered resistance that led to a early 2009 Administration that the Yucca Mountain Project (in Nevada) was “unworkable”. In legislation proposed in 2013, the fiscal consequences of continued delay in federal acceptance of SNF (and, prospectively HLW) were the dominant concern. The legislation makes no provisions for regional equity, states a preference to co-locate offsite storage and disposal, and removes the 70,000 MT limit for a first repository. While the legislation provides that “the impacts of transportation should be minimized”[4], it is unclear what is meant by the provision. Whether federal program managers will be able to convince corridor communities that the transportation destinations are fair and sensible, thereby making the transport legitimate and potentially acceptable, is not yet known.

  • Off-Site Storage
    • BRC findings and recommendations (selected)
    • Sites considered by the Nuclear Waste Negotiator.
    • The regional CSF alternative.
    • Types of Consolidated Storage Facilities: generic; non-generic.
    • Key criteria for CSF: no seismic of flood; low pop in vicinity; rail access.
    • Locations under consideration: SE NM; SRS; INL; Oak Ridge; Midwest(?)
  • Disposal
    • Sites considered for a first and second repository under the NWPA. (Google images)
    • Key criteria for SMF disposal—reducing & oxidizing environments, etc.

[2] Note re BRC sidestep location by not being siting agency……pg viii “We have not……proposed any specific site (or sites) for any component of the waste mgt system”……nor any siting criteria.
[3]Centroid of SNF to single repository, or to a second repository (re states considered). See Google images.