Spent Fuel Reprocessing Efforts Dealt Set-back by NRC – Tom Clements writes for Aiken Leader

The Aiken Leader has published a piece by Tom Clements on the difficulties in opening a facility for reprocessing nuclear waste at the Savannah River Site.  As Clements points out in the article, the proposal would result in the movement of large amounts of nuclear waste into South Carolina, with no future plans for removing the waste, even after it has been reprocessed.

Clements has written previously on this issue for the Leader, and pointed out the complicity of South Carolina lawmakers in dangerous and wasteful plan to bring nuclear waste into the state.  His previous article, “Documents Reveal Time-line and Plans for “Small Modular Reactors” (SMRs) at the Savannah River Site (SRS) Unrealistic and Promise no Funding“, was published on June 19.

An important Department of Energy (DOE) hearing on disposal of weapons-grade plutonium is coming up on September 4 (5:30-8:00 p.m.) at the North Augusta Municipal Center, 100 Georgia Avenue, North Augusta, SC 29841.  This hearing looks at production of plutonium fuel (MOX) at the Savannah River Site (SRS) and MOX use in nuclear reactors operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).

Here is a link to a fact sheet on the issue from the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability:


Tom notes that even if you can’t make the hearing on September 4, you can submit written comments.  Just go to the DOE webpage and find the contact information there.  Written comments are accepted through September 25, 2012.

Tom Clements was the South Carolina Green Party nominee for U.S. Senate in 2010.  He received 121,474 votes and 9.22% of the total running against Tea-Party Republican Jim DeMint and Democrat Alvin Greene.

Read Tom’s article below.

Spent Fuel Reprocessing Efforts Dealt Set-back by NRC;

Decision Holds Negative Implications for Secretive Discussions to Bring Radioactive Spent Fuel to Savannah River Site

Columbia, SC — In a significant move that will impact those aiming to bring highly radioactive spent fuel to the Savannah River Site (SRS) for storage and possible reprocessing, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has decided not to proceed with development of regulations that apply to reprocessing plants.

“The unanticipated decision is to be lauded as it recognizes that reprocessing is far from viable in the United States and that development of regulations for reprocessing are a drain on NRC resources,” said Tom Clements of theAlliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA).

Clements, who formally participated on an NRC panel in 2011 in Augusta, Georgia on development of regulations for reprocessing plants,

Cleaning up the Cold War legacy: Speak out against plutonium in your own backyard

Alliance For Nuclear Accountability: Cleaning up the Cold War legacy:
Speak out against plutonium in your own backyard.

went on to say that “The move by the NRC will be a blow to secretive efforts which are skirting public consent to bring spent fuel to SRS for consolidated storage and possibly reprocessing.  Those efforts will not be looked on favorably by a public that is tired of seeing nuclear waste dumped on South Carolina.  Those discussing bringing highly radioactive spent fuel to our area should step out of the shadows and fully reveal what they are up to and stop destroying the process to  define “consent.””

Reprocessing is a dirty and dangerous chemical process that removes plutonium from “irradiated” nuclear fuel removed from a nuclear reactor, leaving behind a host of radioactive waste streams to be managed.  As spent fuel is used to feed a reprocessing plant, the deadly high-level waste would have to be transported and stored on site in advance of being introduced to a reprocessing plant.

The vote of the NRC Commission was released on August 30.  While rejecting proceeding with development of new regulations to apply to reprocessing, the Commission instead voted to support a staff report to be prepared on the topic of reprocessing.

The required report, proposed by Commissioner Magwood, would include:

  • Staffs assessment and recommendation regarding whether a PRA-based or qualitative risk assessment methodology should be applied;
  • For those related issues that staff believes are agency decisions (such as the definition of WIR), provide an analysis of the pros and cons of various approaches along with the staff’s recommendation;
  • Prioritize those gaps that are not ripe for Commission decision and provide staff’s plan to seek Commission direction for each gap when appropriate; and
  • Identify which gaps would be evaluated in FY 12 and identify the resources needed to complete the analysis as well as the development of proposed rule if Commission approved to proceed to rulemaking.

The Commission voted unanimously to reject development of “reprocessing rulemaking,” a positive development with a Commission that has been divided in the past years.

Efforts to open a reprocessing plant near Barnwell, SC were thwarted in the late 1970s.  Misguided efforts to site a reprocessing plant at Barnwell or on SRS under the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) under the administration of President George W. Bush failed dramatically.

“Given that reprocessing is uneconomical, creates a large volume of problematic nuclear waste, and poses proliferation risks will doom this technology from being deployed in the US,” said Clements.  “Every country in Europe but France, where AREVA operates a heavily subsidized reprocessing plant, has now ceased having pressurized water reactor fuel reprocessed and efforts in Japan to start up a $20-billionreprocessing at Rokkasho have not succeeded after years of trying.  This is a failed technology and the NRC’s wise decision not to move forward with regulations for reprocessing plans is supported by the decline of reprocessing worldwide.”

To read the original of the article and to post a comment, visit the Aiken Leader here.


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