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The Department of Energy Announces More Options on Nuclear Waste

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

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In October 2014, the Department of Energy (DOE) released a document recommending a new strategy for the disposal of both DOE-managed, high-level waste (HLW) and spent nuclear fuel (SNF). The document, “Assessment of Disposal Options for DOE-Managed High-Level Radioactive Waste and Spent Nuclear Fuel,” announced that HLW produced from defense-related activities could be placed in a separate geologic repository than commercially produced nuclear waste.

HLW from atomic energy defense activities will–in the end–result in more than 23,500 canisters and be located at DOE’s Savannah River Site, Idaho National Laboratory and Hanford Site. There are and will be additional canisters of SNF from plutonium production reactors (no longer operating) for nuclear weapons and from naval propulsion reactors.

The report should shift the conversation on DOE’s activities on nuclear waste management from one of combined disposal of commercial and defense nuclear waste to one of forward movement on DOE-managed HLW and SNF. In fact, the main recommendation of the report states:

Specifically, this report recommends that the DOE begin implementation of a phased, adaptive and consent-based strategy with development of a separate mined repository for some DOE-managed HLW and cooler DOE-managed SNF, potentially including some portion of the inventory of naval SNF.

It will be interesting to see if this report will bring changes in the timeline of nuclear waste management and how DOE and the administration will respond to the opportunities to move forward outlined in the report.