CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Civilian Nuclear Spent Fuel
Temporary Storage Options
Updated March 27, 1998
Specialist in Energy Policy
Environment and Natural Resources Policy Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
The Department of Energy (DOE) is studying a site at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, for a
permanent underground repository for highly radioactive spent fuel from nuclear reactors,
but delays have pushed back the facility’s opening date to 2010 at the earliest. In the
meantime, spent fuel is accumulating at U.S. nuclear plant sites at the rate of about 2,000
metric tons per year. Major options for managing those growing quantities of nuclear spent
fuel include continued storage at reactors, construction of a DOE interim storage site near
Yucca Mountain, and licensing of private storage facilities. Arguments for development of
a federal interim storage facility include DOE legal obligations, long-term costs, and public
controversy over new on-site storage facilities. Opposition to centralized storage centers on
the potential risks of a large-scale nuclear waste transportation campaign.
Civilian Nuclear Spent Fuel Temporary Storage Options
Highly radioactive spent fuel has been accumulating in pools of water at
commercial reactors since the early years of the U.S. nuclear power industry.
Originally it was expected that spent fuel would be removed from reactor sites to be
dissolved in reprocessing plants to extract uranium and plutonium for use in new
fuel. When the United States abandoned commercial reprocessing in the mid-1970s,
a new policy had to be developed for spent fuel disposal. The result was the Nuclear
Waste Policy Act of 1982 (NWPA), which required the Department of Energy (DOE)
to develop a permanent underground repository for spent nuclear fuel by January
1998. The multibillion-dollar cost of the program was to be covered by a fee on
Development of such a repository has fallen years behind schedule. DOE, which
is investigating a proposed repository site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, does not
expect to be able to begin taking waste from reactor sites before 2010. NWPA
currently forbids DOE from building an interim storage facility for spent fuel until
construction of a permanent repository is licensed. As a result, nuclear power plants
may have to store spent fuel much longer than originally planned. By the end of the
decade, according to DOE, about a third of the nation’s commercial reactors will
need additional storage capacity to supplement their spent fuel pools. Such additional
capacity would probably be in the form of dry storage facilities, which are more
efficient and less costly than spent fuel pools.
Nuclear utilities and state regulators are urging Congress to authorize
construction of an interim spent fuel storage facility near the Nevada repository site
that could begin receiving waste as soon as possible after 1998. Supporters of that
plan contend that storage at reactor sites should be minimized because of concerns
about safety, costs, public controversy, and the future of nuclear power. They
maintain also that DOE faces legal sanctions under NWPA if waste is not taken from
reactor sites by 1998. Opponents counter that continued storage at reactor sites would
be less expensive than building a central storage facility and would reduce
unnecessary transportation risks.
Alternatives to federal interim storage that might be considered include
measures to mitigate the problems with long-term storage at reactor sites, such as
reducing the nuclear waste fees paid by nuclear utilities and eliminating regulatory
obstacles to the expansion of on-site storage capacity. Private central storage facilities
have also been proposed; a utility consortium has applied for a license for such a
facility on the Utah reservation of the Skull Valley Band of Goshutes. Another
option that has been suggested is overseas storage and reprocessing of some U.S.
commercial spent fuel.
Introduction and Overview . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Reactor Storage Versus Central Storage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Waste Policy Background . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Options for Spent Fuel Storage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Expansion of On-site Storage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Private Central Storage Facilities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Federal Interim Storage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Storage at Yucca Mountain . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Alternative Approaches . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Spent Fuel Reprocessing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Major Storage Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Legal Consequences of Missing 1998 Deadline . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Safety of On-site Storage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Cost of Dry Storage at Reactor Sites . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Construction and Transportation Costs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Operational Costs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
State and Local Controversy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Hindering Nuclear Power Growth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Transportation Risks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Accident Vulnerability . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sabotage Risks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Need for Additional Storage Capacity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
Appendix: History of U.S. Nuclear Waste Policy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Early Storage Policies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Disposal of Reprocessing Waste . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Once-Through Fuel Cycle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
NWPA Storage Provisions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Monitored Retrievable Storage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Interim Storage Provisions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Nuclear Waste Negotiator . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
History of U.S. Nuclear Waste Policy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Early Storage Policies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Disposal of Reprocessing Waste . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Once-Through Fuel Cycle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
NWPA Storage Provisions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Monitored Retrievable Storage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Interim Storage Provisions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Nuclear Waste Negotiator . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
List of Tables
Table 1. Projected Spent Fuel Discharges and Dry Storage Needs . . . . . . . . . . 30
Table 2. Licensed Dry Storage Facilities at Reactor Sites
(through March 1998)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
Civilian Nuclear Spent Fuel
Temporary Storage Options
Introduction and Overview
When Congress enacted the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (NWPA, P.L.
97-425), the Department of Energy (DOE) was given more than 15 years to begin
taking highly radioactive spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants. But DOE
proved unable to open a waste facility by the NWPA deadline of January 31, 1998.
Repeated delays have pushed back the scheduled opening of a permanent
underground nuclear waste repository to 2010, and DOE appears to be barred by
NWPA from starting to build a temporary storage facility for commercial spent fuel
until the permanent repository is licensed for construction.
Nuclear utilities and state utility regulators are urging Congress to authorize
DOE to construct an interim storage facility to receive spent fuel from nuclear plants
as soon as possible after the 1998 deadline. They note that spent fuel storage pools
at nuclear power plants are filling up, a situation that could eventually require the
construction of additional storage capacity at most of the nation’s 66 operating
reactor sites. In the 105th Congress, bills have been approved by the Senate (S. 104)
and the House (H.R. 1270) to construct a federal interim storage facility near Yucca
Mountain, Nevada, the site of DOE’s planned permanent underground nuclear waste
Reactor Storage Versus Central Storage
According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), providing adequate
spent fuel storage capacity at nuclear power plants is not a very difficult engineering
problem. Nevertheless, nuclear utilities and their supporters cite several reasons for
minimizing storage at reactor sites through federal central storage, such as reduced
costs, increased safety, and the fulfillment of DOE’s statutory obligations. Utility
opponents counter that the risk of transporting spent fuel to a central storage facility
would outweigh any problems created by leaving the material at reactor sites. There
is also concern that development of a federal central storage site could preempt the
completion of a permanent underground nuclear waste repository.
When spent nuclear fuel is first removed from a reactor, after it can no longer
efficiently sustain a nuclear chain reaction, it is intensely radioactive and thermally
hot. Until its radioactivity has sufficiently subsided, spent fuel must be cooled in
pools of water that are adjacent to each commercial reactor. After several years, spent
fuel can safely be removed from the storage pools and transferred to dry storage
facilities outside the reactor building.
In dry storage systems, sufficiently cooled spent fuel is transferred from
underwater storage in the pools to thick metal casks or thinner canisters, which are
then drained, filled with inert gas, and sealed. The thick casks can be placed directly
on a concrete pad, while the thinner canisters are placed in concrete casks or bunkers
to provide radiation shielding. Such dry storage facilities have been constructed on
small parcels of land at several nuclear power plants that have run out of space in
their spent fuel pools. NRC has determined that dry storage of spent fuel at reactor
sites is safe for at least 100 years, and generally considers dry storage safer than pool
According to DOE, about 1,000 metric tons of spent fuel is currently in dry
storage at reactor sites. That number is projected to grow to above 2,000 metric tons
by the turn of the century and exceed 10,000 metric tons by 2010.2 (The tonnage
refers to the weight of the original nuclear fuel, excluding metal cladding and
Although dry storage of spent nuclear fuel at reactor sites is a proven
technology, nuclear utilities would prefer to move their spent fuel as soon as possible
to a federal interim storage facility. Utilities are particularly concerned about
incurring indefinite responsibility for maintaining on-site storage facilities — a
concern that has grown with each delay in DOE’s schedule for opening a permanent
underground waste repository.
Supporters of federal storage contend that a centralized interim storage facility
would be safer and less expensive in the long run than storage at each reactor site,
and it would allow DOE to meet its obligation to nuclear power users, who have been
assessed billions of dollars of fees to pay for waste disposal. Utilities and state utility
regulators sued DOE for determining that it could disregard the 1998 disposal
deadline if storage and disposal facilities were unavailable; a federal circuit court
panel agreed with the utilities that the deadline was legally binding and vacated
DOE’s determination July 23, 1996.3 In a subsequent decision, issued November 14,
1997, the court ordered DOE to develop an acceptable remedy for its failure to begin
taking waste from plant sites as required.4
Some utilities may want to avoid building their own dry storage facilities
because of the possibility of public controversy. Several proposals for dry storage at
reactor sites have drawn strong state and local opposition; tight storage capacity
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Waste Confidence Decision Review. 55 Federal
Register 38508. September 18, 1990.
U.S. Department of Energy. Spent Fuel Storage Requirements 1994-2042. DOE/RW0431-Rev. 1. June 1995. p. B.78
Indiana Michigan Power Company, et al., v. Department of Energy and United States of
America. U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit. Docket Nos. 95-1279, 951321, 95-1463. Decided July 23, 1996.
Northern States Power Company, et al., v. U.S. Department of Energy and United States
of America. U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit. Docket Nos. 97-1064, 971065, 97-1370, 97-1398. Decided November 14, 1997.
limits were imposed at one nuclear plant, but no dry storage facility has yet been
blocked altogether. The nuclear industry also is concerned that indefinite storage at
reactor sites could pose a major obstacle to future nuclear power growth.
Opponents of federal interim storage contend that those problems do not justify
moving spent fuel from nuclear power plants and incurring transportation risks before
a permanent disposal site is ready. Strong state and local opposition has blocked
previous proposals for centralized nuclear waste storage, particularly because of
concern that such storage would become permanent.
The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, a scientific advisory body
established by NWPA, warned that immediate development of a DOE central storage
facility could jeopardize the effort to develop a permanent underground repository.
In a March 1996 report, the Board argued that a storage facility could divert scarce
funding from the planned repository and could erode political support for the
repository program. The Board was also concerned that locating the storage facility
at the proposed repository site would make it appear that the results of future
scientific studies of the site’s suitability for permanent disposal had been
predetermined. To minimize those problems, the Board recommended that
development of a DOE central storage facility be put off for a decade or more.5
Waste Policy Background
Throughout the history of the civilian nuclear power program, which started in
the 1950s, indefinite storage of spent fuel at reactor sites has never been official U.S.
policy. Yet, except for a small fraction that has been reprocessed or transferred to
remote storage sites, U.S. commercial spent fuel has remained in pools of water or
casks at individual nuclear plants. The oldest commercial spent fuel now has been
stored at plant sites for more than three decades.
In the early years, reactor spent fuel was not considered by many in government
and industry to be waste material, but a source of valuable uranium and plutonium
for use in new fuel. The plutonium was expected to prove most useful for fueling
“breeder” reactors, which could produce spent fuel containing more plutonium than
the amount that had been fissioned to produce energy. It was envisioned that
extracting plutonium from reactor spent fuel would be the only way to sustain a
commercial nuclear power industry without exhausting limited deposits of natural
Spent fuel was expected to cool in pools at commercial reactor sites for only a
few years until being shipped to “reprocessing” plants, where the uranium and
plutonium would be chemically separated from the relatively small quantity of highly
radioactive “fission products” that result from the splitting of heavy nuclei. The
fission products, along with other unusable radioactive material and contaminated
chemicals, would become waste for permanent disposal.
Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board. Disposal and Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel —
Finding the Right Balance. March 1996. P. ix.
All of today’s nuclear power plants were designed and ordered by electric
utilities when U.S. policy called for spent fuel to be sent to reprocessing plants, so
most of their spent fuel pools are relatively small. But the scarcity of natural uranium,
which was expected to drive demand for reprocessed uranium and plutonium, never
materialized, and the economic outlook for commercial reprocessing plants dimmed
during the late 1970s. At the same time, concerns that plutonium from civilian spent
fuel could be used for nuclear weapons helped end federal support for commercial
When the United States abandoned commercial reprocessing, the “once
through” nuclear fuel cycle became official policy, calling for permanent disposal of
spent fuel as quickly as possible after its discharge from reactors. That policy was
enacted into law with the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which required DOE to begin
disposing of commercial spent fuel at an underground repository by January 1998.
To fund the program, utilities were required to pay a fee of one mill (a tenth of a
cent) per kilowatt-hour of nuclear electricity, with the fees to be deposited in a
Treasury account called the Nuclear Waste Fund. The DOE Office of Civilian
Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM) was established to run the program.
Opening a disposal facility has proven more expensive, and politically and
technically more difficult, than expected. After DOE made little progress toward
finding a site during the program’s first five years (at least partly because of
opposition from states and regions under DOE’s consideration), Congress designated
Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the sole candidate repository site in 1987 (P.L. 100203). But opposition from the State of Nevada and other problems continued to
create delays, and DOE now does not expect to begin operating a repository before
2010. The 1987 nuclear waste amendments also authorized construction of a central
storage facility for commercial spent fuel but blocked DOE from building the facility
until construction of the repository was licensed. No site was specified, except that
it could not be located in Nevada.
Current law provides arguments for both sides of the debate over spent fuel
storage. On one hand, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act establishes a statutory timetable
for DOE to begin taking spent fuel from nuclear power plants, to minimize long-term
storage at reactor sites. But because the law forbids DOE from taking spent fuel until
a permanent repository is approved for construction, long-term storage at reactor sites
appears to be the current policy by default. Congress now is being asked to determine
which of those conflicting principles should take precedence, or whether other steps
should be taken to mitigate the problems created by delays in the federal nuclear
Options for Spent Fuel Storage
A range of options is available for meeting the anticipated U.S. need for
additional spent fuel storage capacity. Major alternatives include continuing the
expansion of dry storage at reactor sites, construction of federal or private interim
storage facilities, and reprocessing of spent fuel to extract plutonium and uranium.
Each alternative would have a different way of addressing the issues involved with
long-term storage — such as public opposition, costs, DOE’s legal responsibilities,
the future growth of nuclear power, and transportation. The major alternatives are not
necessarily mutually exclusive, and each would raise its own set of controversial
Expansion of On-site Storage
The Nuclear Waste Policy Act appears to require that commercial reactors
provide sufficient on-site or other non-federal storage capacity for their own spent
fuel at least until DOE receives an NRC construction permit for a permanent
repository. At that point, DOE is authorized to begin accepting waste at a “monitored
retrievable storage” facility. (However, the law also may penalize DOE for failing to
begin receiving utility waste by 1998, as indicated by the U.S. appeals court decision
Supporters of continued on-site storage point to NRC’s confidence about the
safety of long-term storage at reactor sites and contend that the problems associated
with such storage could be sufficiently mitigated. Environmental and other groups
also contend that on-site storage would eliminate the near-term risks of transporting
highly radioactive spent fuel to a central storage facility.
To offset the added on-site storage costs under this option, it has been proposed
in the 105th Congress (S. 296) that utilities receive credits to reduce their nuclear
waste fees. Some utilities have requested such credits from DOE to pay for on-site
dry storage facilities, although none have been granted. A drawback to that idea is
that nuclear waste fee rebates or credits would reduce the total funding available for
the nuclear waste program.
Although the Nuclear Waste Fund currently holds a large surplus — $6.2 billion
at the end of FY1997, according to DOE6 — future funding could fall short and
require an increase in nuclear waste fees. As a result, nuclear utilities could end up
paying for rebates and credits with future fee increases. Questions about equity might
also be raised by such a system; utilities with adequate storage capacity would be
required to help pay, through the Nuclear Waste Fund, the storage costs of utilities
that had run out of storage space.
DOE had suggested that it could partially compensate for missing the 1998
repository deadline by providing multi-purpose canisters (MPCs) to nuclear power
plants that needed additional storage capacity.7 DOE planned to design the sealed
canisters to fit into different shielded “overpacks” for storage, transportation, and
permanent disposal. However, sharp budget cuts in FY1996 forced DOE to halt
design work on an MPC system, although private-sector systems are becoming
available. DOE could provide a waste fee credit to utilities purchasing private-sector
Nuclear Waste Fund Status. Table provided by Nick DiNunzio, U.S. Department of
Energy, March 18, 1998.
U.S. Department of Energy. Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management. Notice of
Inquiry: Waste Acceptance Issues. Federal Register. May 25, 1994. P. 27007.
MPCs in the hope that such systems would reduce the waste program’s future
transportation and disposal costs.
Obstacles to long-term storage posed by public opposition could be mitigated
by Congress. For example, NWPA could be amended to preempt all state and local
jurisdiction over spent fuel storage facilities, with NRC regulating safety and the
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) determining whether storage costs
could be passed through to electricity customers. However, state officials would
undoubtedly oppose restrictions on their regulatory authority.
Congress has several options for addressing the lack of permanent disposal
facilities to meet the 1998 deadline. The simplest action might be to change the
deadline to give DOE more time to develop a disposal facility. Congress also could
formally establish a national policy of long-term storage at reactor sites, and modify
the law to explicitly stipulate that DOE should begin taking spent fuel from reactor
sites only when licensed facilities become available.
Arguments might be raised that a statutory change in the 1998 waste disposal
deadline would take away vested rights for which nuclear utilities have already paid,
and that utilities would be due compensation. The Supreme Court recently ruled that
the federal government cannot “break its contractual promises without having to pay
compensation.”8 However, it is not clear that NWPA’s waste disposal requirements
would constitute a contract under the Supreme Court ruling. DOE did sign waste
disposal contracts with utilities pursuant to NWPA, but those contracts contain an
explicit delay clause. The recent appeals court decision upholding the 1998 deadline
appeared to be based on statutory provisions, rather than on the contracts.
Private Central Storage Facilities
With DOE apparently blocked by law from developing a central storage facility
for commercial spent fuel, it may be possible for the private sector to step in. Two
private central storage facilities already exist — at former reprocessing plants in New
York and Illinois — although neither is currently accepting additional spent fuel.
Privately owned central storage facilities would require NRC licensing under the
same regulations that would apply to a DOE-owned MRS facility (10 CFR Part 72).
A consortium of seven nuclear utilities applied to NRC June 25, 1997, for a
license to build a commercial spent fuel storage facility on the Utah reservation of
the Skull Valley Band of Goshutes. The license application would allow the storage
of up to 40,000 metric tons in about 4,000 sealed canisters.9 The storage facility,
which would begin receiving spent fuel beginning in 2002, would cost about $130
million to license and construct.10 The State of Utah strongly opposes the storage
United States v. Winstar Corp., 116 S.Ct. 2432 (July 1, 1996).
“Utilities Apply to NRC to Site Dry Cask Storage Facility on Utah Reservation of Skull
Valley Goshutes.” SpentFuel. June 30, 1997. p. 1
Behrens, Lira. “Utility Coalition Asks NRC to License Private Waste Storage Facility.”
plan, but the Goshutes’ sovereignty over their reservation appears to preclude state
authority to regulate or block it.
Previous proposals for private storage facilities have required nuclear utilities
to retain ownership of any spent fuel that they shipped to such sites. As a result,
utilities would risk being required to take back their spent fuel if DOE were unable
to begin accepting it before a storage facility closed. Although such private storage
facilities would not necessarily solve nuclear utilities’ long-term waste problems,
they could provide an alternative for power plants that were facing state and local
obstacles to the expansion of on-site storage.
A privately developed nuclear waste storage facility at the Yucca Mountain site
was proposed by Sen. Grams during the 104th Congress (S. 1478). Under that plan,
a consortium of nuclear utilities and other firms would receive money from the
Nuclear Waste Fund to build a storage facility on DOE land at Yucca Mountain for
at least 40,000 metric tons of commercial spent fuel.
Once the facility authorized by S. 1478 were licensed by NRC, it would receive
spent fuel taken by DOE from reactor sites, allowing DOE to fulfill its
responsibilities under its contracts with nuclear utilities. Unlike the situation at other
proposed private storage facilities, therefore, spent fuel sent to the private facility
under S. 1478 would have been owned by DOE and no longer been the responsibility
of the utilities that generated it. DOE also would assume ownership of the storage
facility before decommissioning, with costs to be paid from the Nuclear Waste Fund.
Federal Interim Storage
Nuclear utilities and state regulators are urging Congress to reverse its 1987
waste storage policy and authorize DOE to immediately construct an interim storage
facility at Yucca Mountain. Under current law, DOE cannot build a central storage
facility until NRC grants a construction permit for a permanent repository, and is
prohibited from siting the facility in Nevada. The nuclear industry and its supporters
argue that a Nevada storage facility represents the best hope for DOE to begin taking
spent fuel from nuclear power plants within a few years after the 1998 deadline.
Storage at Yucca Mountain. In the 105th Congress, legislation to authorize a
DOE storage facility at the Nevada Test Site near Yucca Mountain was approved by
the House on October 30, 1997 (H.R. 1270, H.Rept. 105-290). The House bill would
require DOE to begin receiving waste at the storage facility in 2002, clearing away
regulatory, logistical, and legal obstacles that might prevent DOE from meeting that
deadline. The storage facility authorized by the committee bill would be developed
and licensed in two phases. The first phase would consist of relatively simple drystorage facilities for up to 10,000 metric tons of spent fuel and would be licensed for
20 years. In the second phase, the facility could be expanded to hold up to 40,000
metric tons and be licensed for a renewable term of 100 years.
Inside Energy/with Federal Lands. June 30, 1997. p. 5
A similar bill (S. 104, S.Rept. 105-10) was passed by the Senate April 15, 1997.
The Senate-passed bill would require the President to determine the suitability of the
Yucca Mountain site for a permanent underground repository by 1999, before a
license application could be submitted for an interim surface storage facility at the
site. If the site were declared suitable for the permanent repository, temporary storage
could begin by 2002. If not, there would be a two-year moratorium on the project to
allow for congressional approval of an alternative interim storage site. If no
alternative were approved, then interim storage would proceed at Yucca Mountain.
(For more details of the House and Senate bills, see CRS Issue Brief 92059, Civilian
Nuclear Waste Disposal.)
By focusing on areas near Yucca Mountain, the bills are attempting to address
some of the concerns that prompted Congress in 1987 to prohibit DOE from opening
a storage facility before beginning construction of a permanent repository — in
particular, the concern that a storage facility could become permanent. Because
Yucca Mountain is intended to be the permanent disposal site if NRC issues a
license, it could be argued that long-term storage would impose a relatively low
additional burden. Supporters of Yucca Mountain storage also contend that the
remote site is appropriate for central storage of highly radioactive waste and that the
site would minimize the additional transportation risk and expense that would be
needed to move the stored waste into the Yucca Mountain permanent repository, if
it is built as planned.
A potential variation on the Yucca Mountain storage plan would require DOE
to store commercial spent fuel underground at the site rather than in surface storage
facilities. Essentially, DOE would begin building and loading the Yucca Mountain
repository before it was licensed for permanent disposal. Once the repository was
licensed, the stored waste could remain permanently, and DOE would have begun
receiving waste earlier than currently planned without having to construct a large
surface storage facility. Studying the effects of underground stored nuclear waste
might also prove helpful to DOE in preparing a repository license application. If the
repository ultimately failed to receive a license, alternative facilities could be
developed while the waste remained securely stored in Yucca Mountain.
Potential objections to the underground storage idea primarily involve time and
cost. It would almost certainly take DOE several more years to prepare underground
storage facilities at Yucca Mountain than to open a surface facility of the type already
existing at nuclear power plants. Although cost savings could be achieved by
reducing the need for surface storage facilities (primarily concrete structures for
radiation shielding), the emplacement of large quantities of radioactive material in
underground chambers could increase the cost of DOE’s ongoing repository studies
by necessitating radiological health controls and other safety measures. Moreover,
DOE has not developed waste containers or determined the optimum container
configuration and spacing for permanent disposal, so waste stored underground
probably would have to be repackaged and moved into new tunnels after the
permanent repository was licensed.
Storing waste at Yucca Mountain could reduce general public confidence in the
safety of permanent disposal at the site, because it might appear that the federal
government had prejudged the site’s suitability for a repository before completing the
necessary scientific evaluations. Such concerns could be exacerbated by a decision
to store nuclear waste underground at Yucca Mountain before a repository were
licensed by NRC.
Accusations of federal prejudgment have already been prompted by Congress’
1987 selection of Yucca Mountain as the sole repository candidate site. State officials
in Nevada have long contended that the potential for earthquakes, volcanoes, and
other hazards at Yucca Mountain render the site scientifically unsuitable for a
repository, although DOE maintains that no insurmountable problems with the site
have yet been found. The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board recently concurred
with DOE’s opinion.11
The Clinton Administration’s position is that interim storage should not be
established at Yucca Mountain until DOE completes a technical viability
determination expected in 1998. DOE’s most recent Civilian Radioactive Waste
Program Plan calls for construction of an interim storage facility to begin in 2001 and
for waste to be received at the selected site in 2002. The plan notes that the proposed
interim storage schedule could not be implemented without modifying NWPA’s
current restrictions on DOE waste storage.12
The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board recently warned that immediate
efforts to develop an interim storage facility could reduce the resources available for
the permanent repository program.
Nevada’s Lincoln County and City of Caliente have offered a site a few hundred
miles northeast of Yucca Mountain for DOE to store up to 15,000 metric tons of
spent fuel. The proposal, issued February 21, 1995, calls for DOE to pay the two
localities up to $30 million per year and provide other benefits. Under the two
nuclear waste bills, the Lincoln County site, which is along a main railway, would
be used for transferring waste casks from rail cars to trucks for final transport to the
Yucca Mountain site.
Alternative Approaches. Various nuclear-related DOE installations other than
Yucca Mountain also have been suggested as storage sites for commercial spent fuel.
DOE already is receiving U.S.-origin spent fuel from foreign research reactors at the
Savannah River Site in South Carolina, although less than 20 metric tons is involved
in that program.13 Sen. Murkowski, Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural
Resources Committee, suggested in a floor statement May 25, 1995, that DOE store
commercial spent fuel at its Savannah River and Hanford, Washington, nuclear
U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board. Letter to Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary
from Review Board Chairman John E. Cantlon. Feb. 23, 1996.
U.S. Department of Energy. Draft Civilian Radioactive Waste Management Program Plan,
Revision 1. DOE/RW-0458, Revision 1. May 1996. P. 22.
U.S. Department of Energy. Draft Environmental Impact Statement on a Proposed Nuclear
Weapons Nonproliferation Policy Concerning Foreign Research Reactor Spent Nuclear
Fuel. DOE/EIS-0218D. March 1995. P. 13.
The Monitored Retrievable Storage (MRS) Commission, a temporary threemember panel established by the 1987 NWPA amendments, recommended that
Congress authorize two storage facilities at DOE sites. Issued in 1989, the MRS
Commission’s report proposed a low-capacity emergency storage facility and a
larger, user-funded storage facility instead of the repository-linked MRS facility
authorized by NWPA.
The proposed emergency storage facility would be limited to 2,000 metric tons
of spent fuel and would be built at a DOE nuclear site with spent-fuel handling
experience. The estimated $300-$400 million facility would be large enough to
accept all the waste from one or more nuclear plants if they suffered accidents that
required their spent-fuel pools to be emptied. Noting that such a facility would
provide emergency backup for all nuclear power plants, the Commission
recommended that its costs be paid by all nuclear utilities through the Nuclear Waste
The Commission’s proposed user-funded, NRC-licensed storage facility would
hold up to 5,000 metric tons of spent fuel and would provide utilities an alternative
to on-site storage. Users of such a facility would primarily consist of utilities wanting
to reduce spent-fuel monitoring costs at decommissioned reactors, according to the
MRS Commission report, which estimates such costs at $2-$3 million annually. Such
a facility also could take spent fuel from reactors with problems providing sufficient
on-site storage. As the name implies, the $500-$600 million user-funded storage
facility would be built only if enough utilities were willing to sign contracts to cover
its cost. The MRS Commission reasoned that only users should pay for such a facility
because it would be inequitable to impose part of its costs on utilities that were
willing to pay for storing their waste on-site.14
Congressional authorization of a “small, limited-capacity backup storage
facility” was recently suggested by the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board as
“one way to accommodate the storage needs of any utilities that, for one reason or
another, cannot continue to store their own spent fuel.”15
The primary obstacle to such facilities, even the relatively small ones proposed
by the MRS Commission, would be the type of regional opposition that blocked
DOE’s 1986 proposal for an MRS facility in Tennessee. Without direct linkages to
the repository, as imposed by Congress in 1987, a proposed storage facility is
vulnerable to arguments that it could become permanent.
Spent Fuel Reprocessing
Reassessing current U.S. policy and sending spent nuclear fuel to reprocessing
plants has been suggested as an alternative to storing the material at reactor sites or
a central facility. Possible reprocessing locations include a newly constructed facility
in Great Britain and underused defense reprocessing facilities at DOE’s Savannah
Monitored Retrievable Storage Review Commission. Report to Congress. Washington.
U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board. Op. Cit.
River Site. Reprocessing of spent fuel could alleviate near-term storage problems and
extract uranium and plutonium for use in new nuclear fuel. However, the highly
radioactive waste produced by reprocessing would still require long-term storage and
disposal, and the separation of plutonium would probably raise serious concerns
about nuclear weapons proliferation.
British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. (BNFL) has proposed that spent fuel from nuclear
power plants with severe on-site storage problems be shipped to BNFL’s new
Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) in northern England.16 BNFL already
is receiving spent fuel shipments from Japan and other countries, using a fleet of
special ships. Under the BNFL proposal, DOE could send U.S. spent fuel to THORP
to be stored for at least a decade and then reprocessed. The storage and reprocessing
cost of $1 million per metric ton would be paid from the Nuclear Waste Fund. If
DOE storage and disposal facilities became available before the U.S. spent fuel was
reprocessed, the material could be returned and the reprocessing contract terminated.
DOE would pay a termination fee covering BNFL’s transportation and storage costs.
If the U.S. spent fuel were reprocessed, the plutonium (about 1 percent) and
uranium (about 95 percent) would be separated from highly radioactive waste
products. The resulting liquid high-level waste would be vitrified — dissolved in
molten glass — and poured into stainless steel canisters at a new facility that adjoins
THORP. The uranium, plutonium, and waste canisters would then be returned to
DOE, or, for an additional fee, BNFL could produce mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel from
the plutonium and some of the uranium. Most U.S. nuclear plants could load at least
a third of their reactor cores with MOX fuel.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee included a provision in
a nuclear waste bill in the 104th Congress (S. 1271) that could have been used to
implement the BNFL reprocessing proposal. Utilities lacking spent fuel storage space
would have been authorized to contract for “interim storage and conditioning” with
“qualified entities.” DOE would take title to “all spent nuclear fuel and high-level
radioactive waste resulting from the treatment of that fuel.” However, the
controversial provision was dropped from the final bill as passed by the Senate (S.
A report by the operator of the Savannah River Site suggested that the site’s
reprocessing facilities, which formerly extracted highly enriched uranium and
plutonium primarily for defense needs, could economically reprocess spent fuel from
commercial reactors. A new vitrification plant at the site could solidify the resulting
high-level waste for disposal. However, questions have arisen about the ability of the
40-year-old SRS reprocessing facilities to meet current safety standards.17
Reprocessing costs are intended to be offset at least partly by the value of the
uranium and plutonium extracted from spent fuel, a value that depends primarily on
the market price of newly mined uranium. Uranium has been relatively inexpensive
BNFL Inc. Issues for BNFL’s Congressional Staff Tour. August 1995.
Kramer, David. Report by SRS Contractor Appears to Advocate Reprocessing at Site.
Inside Energy/with Federal Lands. January 8, 1996. P. 8.
since the early 1980s, but reprocessing supporters expect prices to rise in the future.
The value of reprocessed uranium is difficult to assess. On the downside, reprocessed
uranium contains a relatively high percentage of undesirable uranium isotopes and
may be slightly contaminated with highly radioactive residues. However, it also
usually has a higher percentage of the crucial isotope uranium-235 than found in
Reprocessing proponents maintain that waste disposal costs would be lowered
by the reduction in waste volume and by the recycling of plutonium, which poses a
long-term radioactive hazard. However, the waste-management benefits of
reprocessing remain largely undemonstrated. Most of the near-term radioactivity and
heat in spent fuel would remain in the vitrified high-level waste, so the separation
between waste canisters in a repository (and therefore total acreage requirements)
might not be significantly reduced. Also, because plutonium can be recycled only a
few times in today’s reactors before becoming unusable, some reprocessed plutonium
would eventually require permanent disposal unless advanced reactor technology
Reprocessing of U.S. commercial reactor fuel would require a substantial
change in U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policy. Although the Clinton Administration
does not attempt to block the United States’ economically advanced allies from
reprocessing civilian spent fuel, it “does not encourage the civil use of plutonium
and, accordingly, does not itself engage in plutonium reprocessing for either nuclear
power or nuclear explosive purposes.”18 Supporters of the Administration policy
contend that any U.S. reprocessing would undermine efforts to prevent non-nuclearweapons nations from building plutonium stockpiles.
Major Storage Issues
Long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel at commercial reactor sites should be
minimized for a variety of reasons, according to nuclear utilities and their supporters.
They contend that serious problems with storage at reactor sites include higher costs,
safety concerns, public opposition, violations of DOE’s statutory responsibility, and
the hindrance of future nuclear power growth in the United States. The nuclear
industry argues that the best solution for those problems would be to build a federal
interim storage facility as quickly as possible.
Opponents of that view disagree about the severity of the problems cited by
nuclear utilities, contending that spent fuel should remain in place until an acceptable
permanent disposal site can be developed. Of particular concern to nuclear industry
opponents is the risk posed by spent fuel transportation, although NRC considers
such risks to be relatively low.19
White House, Office of the Press Secretary. Fact Sheet: Non-Proliferation and Export
Control Policy. Sept. 27, 1993.
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Transporting Spent Fuel: Protection Provided
Against Severe Highway and Railroad Accidents. NUREG/BR-0111. March 1987.
Legal Consequences of Missing 1998 Deadline
Nuclear utilities and state regulatory officials contend that federal interim
storage is necessary for DOE to come close to fulfilling its obligation under NWPA
to begin taking waste from reactor sites by 1998. Payment of billions of dollars by
nuclear utilities into the Nuclear Waste Fund, they argue, requires DOE to provide
disposal services on time. The utilities and state regulators warn that DOE faces legal
sanctions for missing the statutory deadline, a position that has been endorsed by a
federal Circuit Court panel.
The argument over DOE’s legal requirements hinges on NWPA Section 302(a),
which requires nuclear utilities to sign contracts with DOE for the disposal of spent
nuclear fuel in return for the payment of nuclear waste fees. Section 302(a)(5) reads
(5) Contracts entered into under this section shall provide that—
(A) following commencement of operation of a repository, the
Secretary shall take title to the high-level radioactive waste or spent nuclear
fuel involved as expeditiously as practicable upon the request of the
generator or owner of such waste or spent fuel; and
(B) in return for the payment of fees established by this section, the
Secretary, beginning not later than January 31, 1998, will dispose of the
high-level radioactive waste or spent nuclear fuel involved as provided in
Pointing out that the provision above requires DOE to take title to utility waste
“following commencement of operation of a repository,” the Department published
a Federal Register notice May 3, 1995, concluding that the 1998 deadline was not
legally binding if storage or disposal facilities were not ready in time (60 FR 21793).
The only interim storage facility DOE currently is authorized to construct is an MRS
facility, and construction cannot begin until a permanent repository receives an NRC
construction permit, which is not anticipated until about 2005 at the earliest. A
permanent repository is not expected to be opened before 2010. Therefore, DOE
concluded in its 1995 notice, NWPA does not unconditionally require the
Department to begin taking waste from utilities by January 1998.
The standard waste disposal contract that DOE signed with nuclear utilities also
specifies that DOE services should begin by January 31, 1998, but “after
commencement of facility operations” (10 CFR 961.11, Art. II). Article IX of the
contract protects the federal government from liability for damage caused by
“unavoidable delays,” including delays caused by “acts of Government in either its
sovereign or contractual capacity.”
Fourteen utilities and officials representing 20 states filed two lawsuits June 20,
1994, in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to require
compliance with the 1998 deadline; the suits were subsequently refiled to overturn
DOE’s determination that the deadline was not necessarily legally binding. The Court
agreed with the utilities and vacated the DOE determination July 23, 1996.20 DOE
announced October 22, 1996, that it would not appeal.21
Although the Court ruled that DOE remains subject to the 1998 deadline, it did
not determine an appropriate remedy if the deadline were missed. In response,
nuclear utilities and states filed similar lawsuits asking the same panel to specify a
remedy for DOE’s anticipated noncompliance. The Court ruled November 14, 1997,
that DOE is liable for unspecified damages to nuclear utilities for failing to begin the
removal of spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors by the NWPA deadline.
However, the Court did not order DOE to begin moving the waste to its existing
facilities, as some utilities had urged. Instead, DOE was ordered to work out a
remedy with the utilities under the procedures of the standard disposal contract
between DOE and all nuclear utilities.22 The Clinton Administration on December
3, 1997, requested a review of the decision by the full Appeals Court.
After DOE missed the disposal deadline, a coalition of state officials filed a new
lawsuit February 2, 1998, asking the Appeals Court to order DOE to begin taking
waste from reactors quickly and that payments to the nuclear waste fund be placed
in escrow. In addition, the suit asked the Court to prevent DOE from reimbursing
utilities for damages from the Nuclear Waste Fund — funds previously collected
from ratepayers — and consider a court-appointed master to ensure compliance with
court orders. A similar suit was filed by 36 nuclear utilities February 19, 1998. The
potentially broad ramifications of court-imposed sanctions could increase the
pressure for congressional intervention.
Separately from the ongoing court case, state utility regulators have been
considering steps they could take in response to DOE’s failure to meet the NWPA
deadline. State utility regulatory bodies in Virginia, Minnesota, and South Carolina
are particularly concerned about the fairness of requiring electric utility customers to
pay the nuclear waste fee without receiving waste disposal benefits.
Options under consideration by state regulators include forbidding utilities from
passing the fee through to their customers and ordering utilities to pay the fees
collected from customers into an escrow account. However, comments filed by
Virginia Power with the state regulatory commission suggested that a state could not
order such steps without creating an unconstitutional conflict with NWPA.23 The
State of Minnesota enacted legislation in May 1997 allowing nuclear waste fees
collected in the state to be placed in escrow, if authorized by a federal court, until
DOE began taking waste from reactor sites.
Indiana Michigan Power Co., op. cit.
Newman, Pamela. Nuclear Utilities Win Major Waste Battle. Energy Daily. Oct. 24, 1996.
Northern States Power Co., op. cit.
Virginia Electric and Power Company. Initial Comments on Virginia State Corporation
Commission Investigation of Spent Nuclear Fuel Disposal, Case No. PUE950060. October
Safety of On-site Storage
Nuclear utilities contend that while on-site storage is safe, consolidated storage
at a remote site would be safer. Storage at Yucca Mountain or another unpopulated
site would be expected to reduce the already low risk of public exposure from
accidents, sabotage, theft, or routine radiation emissions. But opponents of central
storage contend that the risks of transporting spent fuel from reactor sites would
outweigh any safety advantages of a central storage facility. They also note that any
benefits of consolidated storage would require decades to fully achieve, because of
the time required for transportation and the continued generation of spent fuel at
operating reactor sites.
NRC concluded in its 1990 Waste Confidence Decision Review that spent fuel
could be stored safely at reactor sites for at least 100 years.24 That determination,
according to NRC, indicates that even if the opening of a permanent waste repository
were delayed until 2025 — 15 years later than DOE’s most recent goal — all spent
fuel could be removed from today’s nuclear power plants before public health and
safety would be threatened. The 100 years of anticipated safe storage consists of 40
years during a reactor’s initial operating license, 30 years during a possible extended
license, and at least another 30 years after shutdown.
The waste confidence finding allowed NRC to conclude that waste being
generated by today’s nuclear power plants would pose no unacceptable hazard to the
public before going to a permanent disposal site. According to DOE, once the
Department begins taking waste deliveries, it will take 25-30 years to remove all
spent fuel from non-pool storage at today’s reactors,25 and it could take a decade or
more to remove spent fuel from the pools of all reactors after they were shut down.
If DOE began accepting waste in 2025, therefore, it could be 2065 before all waste
from today’s reactors could be removed for permanent disposal — well within
NRC’s 100-year storage period if the oldest spent fuel were taken first.
NRC regulations allow nuclear reactors to seek an indefinite number of renewals
of their operating licenses, allowing up to 20 years of additional operation per
renewal (10 CFR 54.31). However, it is uncertain how many reactors will extend
their licenses beyond their initial 40-year periods, or how many will shut down early.
The waste confidence finding concludes that spent fuel can be stored on site safely
for 100 years no matter when a reactor ceases operation:
Even in the case of premature shutdowns, where spent fuel is most likely to
remain at a site for 30 years or longer beyond [operating license] expiration, the
Commission has confidence that spent fuel will be safely managed until safe
disposal is available.26
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Waste Confidence Decision Review. September 18,
1990. 55 Federal Register 38474.
U.S. Department of Energy. Final Version Dry Cask Storage Study. DOE/RW-0220.
February 1989. P. I-35.
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Waste Confidence Decision Review. 55 Federal
NRC bases its 100-year storage period on confidence in today’s storage
technology in the short term and on confidence in its long-term regulatory authority
to require whatever safety steps might be needed. The Waste Confidence Review
declares dry storage systems to be “simple, passive and easily maintained,” and
contends that “adequate regulatory authority exists and will remain available to
require any measures necessary to assure safe storage of spent fuel.” NRC received
some criticism of its assertion that institutional controls over spent fuel could be
assured for 100 years, but the waste confidence finding cites numerous human
institutions that have lasted longer.
Spent fuel pools require greater operator attention and maintenance than dry
storage facilities. A minimum amount of water must be kept in the pools, and the
pools include a variety of active cooling, cleaning, and other systems that must be
carefully maintained. NRC has studied a number of pool accident scenarios,
including fuel-cladding fires in an accidentally drained pool, and found a low
probability of serious accidents.27 Spent-fuel pool safety questions that have arisen
more recently include the possible loss of cooling at some boiling water reactor
(BWR) pools, and the degradation of neutron absorbers in reracked pools.
Although NRC believes both dry and pool storage are adequately safe, the dry
storage systems are considered more immune from operational errors. In a 1994
speech, then-NRC Chairman Ivan Selin remarked:
Based on our safety reviews and actual experience to date, we conclude that dry
cask storage is preferred in many instances, especially for operating plants with
limited pool storage capacity and for shut-down plants.28
A recent incident at a Wisconsin nuclear power plant, however, demonstrated
the possibility of unanticipated safety problems even in dry storage systems. While
technicians were welding the lid on a fully loaded cask at the Point Beach plant May
28, 1996, hydrogen that had unexpectedly accumulated in the cask was ignited with
enough force to lift the heavy lid. Subsequent analysis determined that the hydrogen
had formed from the interaction of borated water in the cask and the zinc coating on
internal cask components. Measures to prevent future hydrogen accumulations during
cask loading are now under consideration. Such a problem is unlikely after loaded
casks are placed in storage, because the water is drained and replaced by inert gas.
Operating plants must have pools of water to receive spent fuel immediately
after it is discharged from a reactor. The radioactivity and resulting heat of spent fuel
must decay for at least a year before the material is considered safe by NRC for dry
storage (10 USC 72.2(a)), and currently licensed dry storage systems require longer
cooling periods. After a reactor has been shut down for several years, however, it
Register 38508. Parenthetical note omitted.
Ibid. 55 FR 38481.
Selin, Ivan. Timely Topics on Spent Fuel Storage. Remarks before the Annual Meeting of
the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management. Naples, Florida. July 18, 1994.
would be possible to empty and decommission its spent fuel pool and rely entirely
on dry storage.
Public radiation exposure from spent fuel storage facilities during normal
operations is low. Under NRC regulations (10 CFR 72.67), the nearest individual to
a storage facility must not receive an annual radiation dose to the whole body above
25 millirems, about a tenth of average background radiation in the United States.
Two spent fuel storage sites were analyzed by DOE in 1989. According to that
analysis, the nearest individual’s annual exposure at the H.B. Robinson nuclear plant
in North Carolina was 0.4 millirem, while the nearest individual at the Surry plant in
Virginia received 0.00006 millirem.29
The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board recently concluded, “There is no
compelling technical or safety reason ... to move spent fuel to a centralized storage
facility in the next few years.” The Review Board warned that long-term safety could
be reduced if an interim storage facility were to undermine the nation’s commitment
to developing a permanent underground repository. However, the Review Board
recommended that DOE develop a central storage facility in the future at the
repository site to take spent fuel from closed reactors.30
Cost of Dry Storage at Reactor Sites
The average cost of dry storage systems has dropped in recent years as the need
for on-site capacity has grown, but dry storage costs could represent a significant
burden to some nuclear reactors facing competition in a deregulated electricity
market. In the view of nuclear utilities, the billions of dollars they have paid into the
Nuclear Waste Fund should have allowed DOE to meet NWPA’s 1998 deadline for
starting to take waste from reactors. Timely waste acceptance by DOE could
minimize the need for additional utility expenditures for on-site storage.
Storage of nuclear spent fuel must be paid for by nuclear utilities (from
customer revenues) whether such storage takes place at reactor sites or at a central
DOE facility. The difference is that utilities directly and immediately cover the costs
of at-reactor storage, while the cost of a central DOE storage facility would be paid
from utility fees collected in the Nuclear Waste Fund. DOE is required to increase
the fee if revenues are projected to fall short of the program’s total costs, but the fund
currently has a surplus of several billion dollars, so any increase would probably
occur well in the future.
Utilities and their customers could also realize savings if the total cost of central
storage were lower than the total cost of storage at reactor sites. That calculation
depends primarily on the estimated cost of storing spent fuel at reactors that have
closed, because the continued presence of spent fuel would require maintenance,
security, and other expenditures at plant sites that could otherwise be left largely
untended or put to other uses. The longer spent fuel would be likely to remain at a
U.S. Department of Energy. Final Version Dry Cask Storage Study, op. cit. p. I-97.
U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, op. cit.
reactor after it had ceased operation, the greater the potential savings from a central
Construction and Transportation Costs. The cost of building on-site spent
fuel storage facilities depends on the type of storage system selected and the capacity
required. Dry storage systems can use all-metal casks or inner metal canisters placed
within outer concrete casks or modules. All-metal casks are generally the most
expensive dry storage system, because the metal must be thick enough to provide
effective radiation shielding; concrete casks and modules provide radiation shielding
less expensively. Additional costs are incurred if the storage casks or inner canisters
are designed to be transportable.
A 1993 study by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) estimated that dry
storage capital costs ranged from $350,000-$500,000 for each concrete cask or
module. The cost of an all-metal storage cask was estimated to be no lower than
$750,000.31 With average cask capacity estimated at 11.2 metric tons, the storage
facility cost per metric ton would average about $35,000 for concrete systems and
$65,000 for metal casks. Those costs are substantially lower than the approximately
$110,000 per metric ton paid for the first at-reactor metal casks in the 1980s,
according to the EPRI study’s project manager.32
Each U.S. reactor discharges an average of about 20 tons of spent fuel annually,
so a reactor that had filled its pool storage would need to spend an average of
$700,000 to $1.3 million per year to construct additional dry storage capacity. If DOE
does not take any spent fuel from reactor sites until 2010, nuclear utilities will need
dry storage facilities for about 10,000 metric tons, according to DOE projections (see
Table 1). Based on the EPRI cost projections, therefore, total reactor dry storage
construction costs could reach $350-650 million by 2010 and double by 2020.
If DOE were to build an interim storage facility, its construction costs to store
the same amount of spent fuel would be similar to the cost of on-site storage
capacity, because similar dry storage technologies would be employed. Additional
construction costs would probably be incurred at a DOE storage facility to replicate
the fuel-handling capacity and other infrastructure that already exists at operating
nuclear power plants. On the other hand, some overall savings might be realized by
licensing a single DOE storage facility rather than conducting the necessary safety
analyses for a large number of individual facilities at plant sites.
Interim storage at a central facility would incur substantial transportation costs.
But if the storage facility were located at the site of a permanent repository — such
as Yucca Mountain if found acceptable — the cost of shipping spent fuel for central
storage would probably be about the same as would have been spent later to ship it
directly to the repository. Additional costs would be incurred, however, if the Yucca
Mountain repository were rejected and the stored spent fuel had to be shipped to a
different location for permanent disposal.
Electric Power Research Institute. Comparative System Economics of Concrete Casks for
Spent-Fuel Storage. EPRI TR-102415. June 1993. p. 2-11.
Telephone conversation with EPRI Project Manager R.W. Lambert, December 18, 1995.
Operational Costs. The major net cost saving from a DOE interim storage
facility could result from a reduction in long-term operational costs of at-reactor
storage facilities. The incremental costs of operating on-site dry storage facilities
would be relatively small as long as a reactor continued to operate, because many of
the technicians, guards, and other necessary staff would be at the site anyway. But
after a nuclear power plant is permanently shut down, the continued presence of spent
fuel at the site could pose significant additional long-term costs to a utility.
Most of today’s reactors are not expected to face that problem for at least two
decades, although four large, single-unit nuclear plants have already ceased operation
— Rancho Seco in California, Trojan in Oregon, and the Yankee plants in
Connecticut and Maine, as well as the two-unit Zion plant in Illinois. Several other
reactors at multi-reactor sites have also closed. The licenses of 10 currently operating
reactors are scheduled to expire before 2010 and another 37 by 2015, although 20year license extensions are an available option. The Calvert Cliffs plant in Maryland
announced in March 1998 that it would be the first to seek an extension from NRC.
A 1991 DOE study estimated that continued operation of a spent-fuel pool at a
closed nuclear plant would cost about $4 million per year.33 The Edison Electric
Institute estimated in 1992 that those annual costs would range from $8-25 million.34
Utilities would probably reduce those costs by transferring their spent fuel to on-site
dry storage facilities and closing the pools, but the overhead costs of maintaining
spent fuel in dry storage could be significant if DOE acceptance of spent fuel were
indefinitely delayed. The closed Rancho Seco plant, which is transferring all its spent
fuel to dry storage, estimates the annual cost of operating its dry storage facility at
$3.8 million.35 An NRC study estimated that a typical on-site dry storage facility
would cost $2.1 million per year to operate.36
Because of the additional spent fuel storage costs that might be incurred at
closed reactors, the Monitored Retrievable Storage Commission concluded that a
federal central storage facility could reduce the total cost of spent fuel management
in the United States if a permanent repository were significantly delayed. Depending
on the time value of money (the discount rate), the Commission calculated, such
savings could occur if the repository were delayed until sometime between the years
2013 and 2023.37
A widely quoted analysis prepared for the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) found
that an interim storage facility opening in 1998 could cut $7.7 billion from the total
Rod, S.R. Cost Estimates of Operating Onsite Spent Fuel Pools After Final Reactor
Shutdown. PNL-7778/UC-812. August 1991.
Letter from Steven P. Kraft, Edison Electric Institute, to Ronald A. Milner, Department
of Energy. January 23, 1992.
Miller, Kenneth R. Utility On-Site Spent Fuel Storage Issues. Presentation to Fuel Cycle
'96 conference, March 24-27, 1996.
Smith, R.I., et al. Revised Analyses of Decommissioning for the Reference Boiling Water
Reactor Power Station. NUREG/CR-6174, Vol. 2. Draft, September 1994. p. D-19.
Monitored Retrievable Storage Review Commission, op. cit.
cost of managing the spent fuel from existing commercial reactors, if a permanent
repository did not become available until 2015.38 The savings would result almost
entirely from reducing the number of years that spent fuel would remain at nuclear
plant sites after the reactors had shut down. The NEI study assumes that spent fuel
at closed reactors will remain in pool storage for an average of 24 years, at an annual
cost of $8 million per site. Reactors are assumed to operate 40 years, with no license
The cost savings calculated by the NEI study depend largely on the assumed
annual cost of storing spent fuel at reactor sites after shutdown. If it were assumed
that reactors would shift to dry storage facilities after shutdown, their annual storage
costs would be greatly reduced. At the $2.1 million annual cost for dry storage
estimated by NRC, the NEI study’s total savings from centralized interim storage
would drop below $1.4 billion. NEI’s projected savings may also be significantly
reduced if future costs are discounted, because the bulk of utilities’ projected costs
without central interim storage could occur several decades in the future. Reactor
license extensions would also reduce the projected savings, by reducing the number
of years that spent fuel would remain at plant sites after shutdown. Conversely, early
shutdowns might increase the potential savings.
More recently, NEI projected that extended on-site storage through 2030 could
cost the federal government up to $56 billion.39 Using an annual storage cost
estimate of $4-$8 million per site, the September 1997 report concluded that spent
fuel management costs, in 1997 dollars, would total $10-$20 billion more by 2030
than if federal interim storage were immediately available. NEI further contended
that DOE’s failure to begin taking spent fuel from utilities could require the federal
government to refund all $8.5 billion in fees paid to the Nuclear Waste Fund, plus
$15-$28 billion in interest.
As with NEI’s earlier cost study, the 1997 storage cost projections depend on
assumptions about annual storage site operating costs, discount rates, and the dates
when reactors are decommissioned. Extending the lack of federal storage to 2030
dramatically boosts the total estimated on-site storage cost from NEI’s earlier
projections, which assumed federal storage or disposal would begin by 2015. The
assumption that spent fuel will remain at nuclear plant sites until 2030 would imply
a 20-year delay in DOE’s current schedule. Such a delay could occur if NRC rejected
the repository license for Yucca Mountain, because current law does not authorize
an alternative course of action. The State of Nevada has long contended that Yucca
Mountain cannot be licensed, because of volcanism, earthquakes, water intrusion,
and other technical problems, but DOE maintains that its studies so far have found
no insurmountable obstacles.
NEI’s assertion that the federal government should have to repay all nuclear
waste fees, plus interest, to nuclear utilities would appear to involve the abandonment
Energy Resources International, Inc. Need for Interim Storage. Draft Table 4: Summary
of Total System Costs for a 2015 Repository. Feb. 20, 1996.
Nuclear Energy Institute. Fact Sheet: Congress Faces $56 Billion Liability for Default on
Nuclear Fuel Storage Contracts. September 1997.
of the federal government’s civilian nuclear waste disposal effort. In that situation,
nuclear utilities would apparently be responsible for civilian spent fuel indefinitely.
State and Local Controversy
State and local controversy, which has accompanied some proposals for spent
fuel storage facilities, is a significant consideration in the expansion of at-reactor
storage capacity. Opponents have questioned the safety of proposed on-site dry
storage systems and charged that, because of DOE’s uncertain waste acceptance
schedule, storage facilities at reactor sites could become permanent. No proposed dry
storage facilities have yet been blocked by such opposition, but some have faced long
delays. There is concern that successful opposition to expansion of on-site storage
capacity could force reactors to shut down.
NRC’s general license for on-site dry storage allows any nuclear power plant to
install NRC-approved dry storage systems without further formal NRC action. To
operate such systems under the general license, a reactor owner must analyze sitespecific safety issues for dry storage, notify NRC 90 days before placing spent fuel
in dry storage, and provide NRC the results of fuel-transfer testing at least 30 days
before beginning operation. The general license provides relatively few opportunities
for opponents to use NRC procedures to block or delay dry storage facilities.
Nevertheless, efforts to block new storage facilities at reactor sites can be
mounted on several fronts. In some cases, opponents can fight NRC approval of new
storage facilities, through NRC licensing procedures and in the courts. State laws and
regulatory proceedings, as well as local ordinances, have also been employed.
If a nuclear plant wants to use new storage systems that have not yet received
NRC approval, a site-specific license is required. In those cases, opponents have an
opportunity for NRC hearings before approval can be granted. Site-specific drystorage licenses have been issued in the past with relatively little opposition, but
environmental and other groups in recent years have used most procedural
opportunities to oppose additional on-site spent fuel storage. In Michigan, the state
attorney general and citizens groups went to court to overturn NRC approval of
concrete casks at the Palisades plant, but the court upheld the NRC action Jan. 11,
The Atomic Energy Act preempts states from regulating nuclear reactor safety,
but states may regulate other aspects of nuclear plant operations, particularly their
economic aspects. State public utility commissions (PUCs) typically grant approval
for electric utilities to construct and operate generating facilities, power lines, and
other necessary facilities. Once approved, those costs, plus a reasonable return for
utility investors, can be charged to electricity customers.
Opponents of expanded reactor waste storage capacity often oppose the approval
of such facilities by state economic regulators. For example, an application to the
Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) to build concrete casks at the Point
Beach nuclear plant and charge those costs to electricity customers has been held up
by public controversy. After the PSC approved construction of the casks, opponents
went to court and charged that a state-required environmental impact statement (EIS)
was inadequate. A state circuit court agreed Dec. 22, 1995, interrupting further cask
loading until an acceptable EIS was approved in April 1996. (The program was
further interrupted a month later after hydrogen ignited in one of the casks.)
States may also attempt to pass laws blocking nuclear waste storage facilities.
Whether such laws would run afoul of federal preemption of nuclear safety regulation
has not been tested, but a 1983 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court may bear on the
question. In that case, the Supreme Court upheld a California law that blocked
construction of nuclear power plants unless the California Energy Commission
determined that nuclear waste disposal technology had been demonstrated.40 The
state statute, the Court ruled, was justifiable on economic grounds and did not fall
within the preempted area of nuclear safety regulation.
Plans for dry storage at the Prairie Island nuclear plant, owned by Northern
States Power Company, were delayed by a Minnesota nuclear waste disposal statute.
The law, originally passed to fight DOE consideration of a permanent nuclear waste
repository in Minnesota, required approval by the state legislature of any nuclear
waste “permanent storage” facility in the state. After the state PUC approved a dry
storage facility at Prairie Island, opponents argued in court that the storage facility
would be “permanent” because no federal system had been developed to remove the
waste from the site. The state court of appeals agreed on May 28, 1993, and ruled that
legislative approval would be required for the Prairie Island storage facility.
An 18-month legislative debate then ensued, pushing the two-unit Prairie Island
plant close to a shutdown for lack of storage capacity, according to Northern States
Power. The state legislature approved the operation of five casks May 6, 1994, with
up to 12 additional casks contingent on the identification of an alternative storage site
within the same county and Northern States Power’s development of 600 megawatts
of wind and biomass electrical generation capacity. The utility calculates that the 17
casks would handle the plant’s spent fuel discharges through 2004.
Local ordinances have created problems for a proposed dry storage facility at the
Oyster Creek plant in New Jersey. Lacey Township, where the plant is located,
granted a zoning change in April 1994 to allow construction of the facility, but local
opponents have filed suit to require the township to reconsider the action, on the
grounds that an environmental impact statement was not prepared.
Hindering Nuclear Power Growth
The lack of any system for removing spent fuel from reactor sites has been cited
by nuclear power supporters as a major obstacle to the future growth of nuclear
power in the United States. The prospect of indefinite on-site nuclear waste storage
could have a strong effect on an electric utility’s consideration of options for new
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) v. State Energy Resources Conservation and
Development Commission. 461 U.S. 190 (1983).
generating plants, as well as on public reaction to any proposal to build a nuclear
A 1992 nuclear industry plan for future industry growth identifies progress on
nuclear waste disposal as one of 14 primary “building blocks” that would be required
to pave the way for new commercial reactor orders. Other building blocks include
improved performance of existing reactors, greater public acceptance of nuclear
power, and completion of designs for advanced nuclear power plants that would be
less expensive to build and operate than existing reactors.41 Relatively high
construction costs are generally identified as the main obstacle to the growth of U.S.
nuclear generating capacity in the near future. Primarily because of such economic
factors, the Energy Information Administration projects that no new commercial
reactors will begin operating in the United States before 2015 at the earliest.42
Some argue that a federal interim storage facility with sufficient capacity could
ensure more timely removal of spent fuel from reactor sites and possibly reduce
utility and public resistance to new nuclear power plants. They believe that even a
relatively small storage facility might provide an important demonstration of DOE’s
waste management system and help overcome institutional barriers to a permanent
repository. However, interim storage would not appear to satisfy the California
statute noted above that requires permanent nuclear waste disposal to be
demonstrated before new nuclear reactors can be built in the state. Similar state laws
have been enacted in Connecticut, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Oregon, and
Industry opponents have long argued that no safe options can be developed for
handling nuclear waste, and that the federal government should take no action to
encourage nuclear power growth. Unacceptable risks are posed by storage of spent
fuel at reactor sites, transportation to central storage and disposal facilities, and
permanent disposal, according to many nuclear power critics. They argue, therefore,
that halting nuclear power growth and shutting down existing reactors is the best way
to minimize the nuclear waste problem.
Substantial controversy has arisen over the risks of transporting spent nuclear
fuel from reactors to a central storage facility. Environmental groups and others
opposed to central storage contend that, because NRC has determined on-site storage
to be safe, any risks posed by transporting spent fuel from reactor sites is
unnecessary. Nuclear utilities respond that the benefits of central storage of spent fuel
far outweigh the minimal transportation risks involved.
Unless spent nuclear fuel remains at reactor sites permanently, it will have to be
transported somewhere eventually. As a result, on-site storage can delay but not
Nuclear Power Oversight Committee. Strategic Plan for Building New Nuclear Power
Plants. Second Annual Update. November 1992.
Energy Information Administration. Nuclear Power Generation and Fuel Cycle Report
1997. DOE/EIA-0436(97). September 1997. p. 8.
eliminate the risks involved in nuclear waste transportation. But central storage
opponents point out that extended on-site storage would allow for radioactive decay
in spent fuel before it was shipped. After 100 years, radioactivity in spent fuel would
drop by more than 99 percent, although it still would contain more than 10,000 curies
per metric ton.43 During that period, the reduction of plutonium and other long-lived
radionuclides would be negligible.
No radioactive releases above regulatory limits have occurred during previous
U.S. commercial spent fuel shipments, according to NRC. NRC statistics show that
1,413 metric tons of spent fuel was commercially transported in the United States
from 1979 through 1996, in 1,319 separate shipments. A total of 356 metric tons
were transported in 1,172 highway shipments, while 1,057 metric tons were carried
in 147 rail shipments. The highest amount commercially transported in one year was
193.4 metric tons in 1985. According to NRC’s assessment of spent fuel
The safety record for spent fuel shipments in the U.S. and in other
industrialized nations is enviable. Of the thousands of shipments completed over
the last 30 years, none has resulted in an identifiable injury through release of
If spent fuel is to be removed from reactor sites, future commercial shipments
will involve many times the amount of waste transported previously in the United
States. As passed by the House, H.R. 1270 would require DOE to accept 1,200 metric
tons of spent fuel in 2002 and 2003, 2,000 metric tons in 2004 and 2005, 2,700
metric tons in 2006, and 3,000 metric tons per year afterward. A similar schedule is
included in S. 104, although waste shipments would start in FY2003. More than
80,000 metric tons would eventually be transported if all current reactors completed
their expected 40-year operating periods.
DOE plans to rely primarily on railroads to transport spent nuclear fuel and
high-level waste to Yucca Mountain. According to a 1995 study, “Approximately
11,230 shipments by rail are planned from waste producer sites to Nevada, with an
additional 1,041 shipments by legal-weight truck from four reactor sites not capable
of upgrading for rail shipment.”45 However, a study for the State of Nevada
calculated that the total number of cask shipments could reach 91,981, if nuclear
plants declined to upgrade their facilities to handle rail casks and truck shipments
relied solely on the relatively small casks currently available.46
U.S. Department of Energy. Integrated Data Base for 1993: U.S. Spent Fuel and
Radioactive Waste Inventories, Projections, and Characteristics. DOE/RW-0006, Rev. 9.
March 1994. p. 21.
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Public Information Circular for Shipments of
Irradiated Reactor Fuel. NUREG-0725, Rev. 12. October 1997. p. 2.
TRW Environmental Safety Systems Inc. Nevada Potential Repository Preliminary
Transportation Strategy Study 1, Rev. 01. Prepared for DOE Office of Civilian Radioactive
Waste Management. April 1995. P. vii.
Planning Information Corporation. The Transportation of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High(continued...)
(For more background on this topic, see CRS Report for Congress 97-403 ENR,
Transportation of Spent Nuclear Fuel, March 27, 1997.)
Accident Vulnerability. A key element in nuclear waste transportation safety
is the vulnerability of shipping casks to accidental damage. Spent fuel transportation
casks must be certified by NRC, which requires that each model be capable of
surviving a variety of hazards (10 CFR 71, Subpart F). Included in those
requirements is a sequential series of tests intended to simulate accident conditions;
the test sequence requires a 30-foot drop onto a hard surface, a one-meter drop onto
a six-inch-thick vertical steel rod, 30-minute engulfment by a fire of 1,475 degrees
Fahrenheit, and then immersion in three feet of water for eight hours. At NRC’s
discretion, compliance with those tests may be verified with actual production casks,
scale models, or engineering analyses.
Critics maintain that the tests do not realistically simulate the most severe
accidents that spent fuel casks might encounter. For example, they point out that
some fires could be hotter and last longer than NRC’s test fires. In such cases, “heat
could vaporize some radioactive materials and sweep them up into the air,” according
to a fact sheet distributed by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service.47 Critics
also contend that NRC should require full-scale testing for each certified cask design.
A 1987 study for NRC analyzed historical truck and rail accident data to predict
radiological risk from spent fuel shipments.48 The report concluded that few of the
accidents studied would have released radioactivity if spent fuel had been involved;
most accidents involved energy-absorbing targets such as other vehicles, insufficient
velocity to damage shipping casks, little or no fire, or other mitigating factors. No
documented accident was found in the NRC study that would have caused extensive
cask or spent fuel damage, but it was estimated that such damage would occur in
about one in 100,000 truck accidents and one in 10,000 rail accidents.
Two of the most severe historical accidents evaluated by the NRC study include
a 1979 derailment in Alabama that knocked a rail car off a 75-foot river bridge and
a 1982 derailment of a train containing vinyl chloride and petroleum tanks cars. It
was estimated that the fall from the bridge could have subjected a spent fuel cask to
nearly the greatest mechanical strain it could suffer without posing a radiological
hazard. The 1982 petroleum-car derailment could have subjected a spent fuel cask
to oil fires for as long as 4 days and heated its lead shielding to as much as 720
degrees Fahrenheit, probably posing a radiological hazard exceeding regulatory
limits, the study found.
Level Waste: A Systematic Basis for Planning and Management at National, Regional, and
Community Levels. Prepared for Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office. September 10, 1996.
Radioactive Waste Management Associates. Hot Cargo: Radioactive Waste
Transportation. New York. January 1995.
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Transporting Spent Fuel: Protection Provided
Against Severe Highway and Railroad Accidents. NUREG/BR-0111. March 1987.
Sabotage Risks. The potential for sabotage of nuclear waste transportation
casks has also been cited as an argument against the large-scale transfer of spent fuel
to a central storage facility. Opponents point out that a wide variety of armor-piercing
weapons could penetrate the heavy steel transportation casks, pulverize some of the
nuclear waste inside, and allow highly radioactive waste particles to escape into the
Studies of potential sabotage damage to nuclear waste transportation casks were
conducted during the 1980s by Sandia National Laboratories and Battelle Columbus
Laboratories.49 In those studies, armor-penetrating explosive devices were fired
directly at a variety of full- and partial-scale casks containing real and simulated
spent nuclear fuel. The explosions breached the test casks and damaged some of the
nuclear material inside, but far less radioactivity escaped than had previously been
Battelle and Sandia researchers selected an M-3 conical shaped charge as the
most hazardous weapon that saboteurs would be likely to deploy against nuclear
waste transportation casks. Such a shaped charge consists of high explosives
surrounding a conical cavity lined with metal, such as copper or iron. Upon
detonation, the high explosive collapses the metal-lined cavity and ejects the metal
in an extremely high-velocity jet with great penetrating power.
The M-3 is a relatively low-precision shaped charge designed primarily for
penetrating concrete structures, and is one of the largest shaped charges in the U.S.
inventory. It will penetrate 20 inches of armor steel and 30 inches of mild steel, and
makes an entrance hole averaging nearly 4 inches in diameter.51 It carries a greater
mass of high explosives than anti-tank systems cited by Jane’s Infantry Weapons,52
and makes a wider hole than high-precision shaped charges. Although there may be
weapons and other explosive devices that could make a larger hole in a transportation
cask, the M-3 is considered by Battelle and Sandia researchers to be a valid indicator
of the potential threat.
Miller, N.E, et al., Battelle’s Columbus Division. Radiological Source Terms Resulting
From Sabotage to Transportation Casks. Prepared for U.S. Nuclear Regulatory
Commission. NUREG/CR-4447, BMI-2131. November 1986.
Sandoval, R.P., et al., Sandia National Laboratories. An Assessment of the Safety of Spent
Fuel Transportation in Urban Environs. SAND82-2365. June 1983.
Schmidt, E.W., et al., Battelle Columbus Laboratories. Final Report on Shipping Cask
Sabotage Source Term Investigation. Prepared for U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
NUREG/CR-2472, BMI-2095. October 1982.
Sandoval, op. cit. p. 4.
Vigil, Manuel G., and Sandoval, Robert P. Development of a Method for Selection of
Scaled Conical Shaped Explosive Charges. Sandia National Laboratories. SAND80-1770.
March 1982. P. 2.
Gander, Terry J., and Hogg, Ian V. Jane’s Infantry Weapons, 1995-96. Jane’s Information
In the Battelle and Sandia experiments, the metal jet produced by each shaped
charge produced an entrance hole and, usually, an exit hole in the casks. (A full-scale
cask test at Sandia produced an entrance hole about 6 inches in diameter and no exit
penetration.) The real or simulated spent fuel in the path of the metal jet was
pulverized, but cask contents that were not directly hit by the jet suffered little or no
damage. Unlike tanks and other typical targets of armor-piercing weapons, nuclear
waste casks contain no explosive or combustible materials that could be touched off
by the shaped-charge jets, so little secondary damage occurred in the tests.
The Sandia researchers calculated from the experimental data that an attack on
a truck cask carrying three spent fuel assemblies would release a maximum of 34
grams of respirable irradiated fuel. If the attack took place in a densely populated
urban area, such a release could cause as many as 14 latent cancer fatalities, the
report concluded.53 Larger truck or rail casks, holding substantially more spent fuel,
might release greater quantities of radioactive material, depending on the penetration
and diameter of the shaped-charge jet.
A 1997 report for the State of Nevada criticized the conclusions of the Battelle
and Sandia studies.54 The Nevada report contended that the earlier studies had
understated the potential hazard of up to 2,000 curies of non-respirable radioactive
material that could be released from a spent fuel cask by a shaped-charge attack.
Moreover, the Nevada report contended that the shaped-charge attacks simulated by
Battelle and Sandia did not represent a “credible worst-case scenario,” such as the
capture of a cask and the placement of multiple charges around it.
NRC physical protection regulations for spent fuel transportation (10 CFR
73.37), which DOE follows, are designed to reduce the risk of sabotage. Under the
rules, each shipment of spent fuel by NRC licensees requires the prior notification
of NRC, regular monitoring by a licensee-operated communications center, and
constant surveillance by trained escorts. Licensees must also arrange for emergency
response by local law enforcement agencies along planned transportation routes and
meet other general requirements. Specific physical protection requirements for
highway, railroad, and sea shipments are also mandated by the NRC regulations.
Even without accidents or sabotage, small amounts of radiation are emitted by
spent fuel transportation casks. During a normal shipment, low exposure levels
would be received by the transportation crew, passengers on other vehicles (during
a highway shipment), and residents near the transportation route. The dose to each
exposed individual would normally be extremely low, but the total population dose
resulting from all planned spent fuel shipments could be an issue in the debate.
Need for Additional Storage Capacity
Sandoval, op. cit. p. 4.
Halstead, Robert J., and Ballard, David James. Nuclear Waste Transportation Security
and Safety Issues: The Risk of Terrorism and Sabotage Against Repository Shipments.
Prepared for Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects. October 1997.
Although the physical space in a nuclear reactor’s spent fuel storage pool is
fixed, projections of when additional capacity will be required depend on a number
of variables. According to DOE, about 1,000 metric tons of spent fuel is currently in
dry storage at reactor sites. That number is projected to grow to above 2,000 metric
tons by the turn of the century and to 10,000 metric tons by 2010, the latest scheduled
date for opening a permanent repository.
Two major types of variables must be considered in such projections: the
operating characteristics of the reactor, and the way the spent fuel is stored in the
pool. A key limitation is that reactor pools are usually not filled completely —
enough capacity is maintained to hold all the fuel assemblies currently in the reactor
core, usually about 100 tons, in case of emergency. However, utilities may fill some
of that extra capacity to delay the need for dry storage.
The major relevant operational characteristics of a reactor are its capacity factor
— the percentage of its potential electrical output that is actually generated — and
its fuel efficiency, or “burnup.” Capacity factors are one of the largest unknowns,
particularly for an individual reactor. A plant’s capacity factor is determined
primarily by the amount of time it is shut down for refueling, by unexpected
problems, for maintenance, and regulatory requirements. Some reactors have shut
down for years at a time when major maintenance or other work was needed. The less
a reactor operates, the less fuel it will require, and the slower its spent fuel pool will
be filled. Capacity factors at most reactors have been rising in recent years.
Increasing the level of burnup — the amount of energy produced by each ton of
nuclear fuel — affects pool capacity by allowing a reactor operating at a given
capacity to be refueled less often. The typical U.S. reactor now refuels every 18
months. Burnup depends primarily on the design of the nuclear fuel and has been
rising in recent years. Further increases would continue to reduce the amount of spent
fuel being discharged from U.S. reactors.
Operation of a spent fuel pool involves two main variables: the amount of space
between fuel assemblies, and the amount of space between individual fuel rods in the
assemblies. Utilities have been able to significantly increase spent fuel pool capacity
by “reracking” their pools to place spent fuel assemblies closer together. Neutronabsorbing material such as boron is placed between the closely spaced assemblies to
prevent nuclear chain reactions. Minimum space between assemblies depends on
such factors as the seismic characteristics of the site, the reactivity of the spent fuel,
and weight limits on pool support structures (particularly in the case of elevated
The other option for saving space is to break down the assemblies so the
individual fuel rods can be placed closer together, a process called rod consolidation.
Typically, the fuel rods are removed from the assembly grid structures and packed
about twice as tightly into new assemblies of the same dimensions; the old grid
structures, which also are radioactive, must then be crushed and stored as well. Rod
consolidation has been tried so far only experimentally.55
Some multi-plant utilities also may delay the need for additional storage by
shipping spent fuel from their older nuclear plants to newer ones with larger and
emptier storage pools. Such intra-utility transfers have constituted most previous
commercial spent fuel transportation.
DOE’s projections of when reactors will exceed their spent-fuel pool capacity
depend partly on analyses of the above factors carried out by nuclear utilities, who
must report their fuel storage situation to the Energy Information Administration
(DOE Nuclear Fuel Data Form RW-859). Each reactor is required to estimate fuel
discharges for its subsequent five refuelings and its maximum pool capacity for intact
(unconsolidated) fuel assemblies. Combining the utility analyses with its own
forecasting models, DOE then estimates total dry storage needs for current reactors
for their entire 40-year licensing periods.
The latest DOE projection of reactor dry storage needs covers 1994 through
2042, and assumes that no spent fuel will be transferred to central storage or disposal
facilities.56 According to that study, whose results are summarized in Table 1,
cumulative spent fuel discharges will exceed reactor pool capacity by 2,333 metric
tons in 2000. Additional storage needs will total 10,686 metric tons by 2010, double
by 2020, and plateau at 25,244 in 2039. Intra-utility transhipment of spent fuel could
reduce those storage needs by about 10 percent, according to DOE.
Those projections indicate the minimum amount of spent fuel that DOE would
have to accept at a central storage facility or repository to eliminate the need for
additional dry storage facilities at reactor sites, if that goal were to become public
policy. DOE would need to accept about 1,000 metric tons per year from 1998
through 2010, if shipments from reactors were based solely on lack of storage
However, DOE’s contracts with nuclear utilities, signed pursuant to NWPA,
stipulate that the Department will take the oldest spent fuel first.57 According to
DOE’s Annual Capacity Report, the oldest spent fuel is not necessarily located at the
sites with the greatest need for additional storage capacity.58 Under that priority
system, therefore, DOE would have to accept substantially more spent fuel than
1,000 metric tons per year to eliminate the need to expand storage capacity at reactor
Table 1. Projected Spent Fuel Discharges and Dry Storage Needs
Baker, Gary (editor). Spent Fuel Storage Options. McGraw-Hill, Inc. October 1988. P. 5.
U.S. Department of Energy. Spent Fuel Storage Requirements 1994-2042. DOE/RW-0431Rev. 1. June 1995.
Standard Disposal Contract, Article IV.
U.S. Department of Energy. Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management. Annual
Capacity Report. DOE/RW-0457. March 1995.
Cumulative dry storage needs
Total spent fuel
Source: U.S. Department of Energy
DOE’s projections also assume that spent fuel will remain in spent fuel pools
after reactors have shut down. However, utilities would probably prefer to remove
all fuel from reactor sites as soon as possible after they shut down, which could
create additional demand for DOE storage and disposal acceptance capacity. If DOE
were unable to take spent fuel rapidly enough, nuclear utilities would be likely to
transfer all spent fuel from the pools of closed reactors to on-site dry storage, to
reduce long-term maintenance costs.
Table 2. Licensed Dry Storage Facilities at Reactor Sites
(through March 1998)
Fort St. Vrain
Red Wing, Minn.
Two Rivers, Wis.
Oak Harbor, Ohio
Source: Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Utilities that have faced the earliest need for additional capacity, beyond
reracking their spent fuel pools, have so far selected dry storage over rod
consolidation. Most if not all nuclear plant sites are believed to have sufficient
capacity for fuel storage casks, although some may face other operational hurdles,
such as crane capacity and insufficient pool size in which to transfer fuel to the casks.
Depending on cask spacing and the size of a buffer area, all the spent fuel discharged
from a typical reactor over 40 years could be stored on about 10 acres, which is a
small fraction of the typical nuclear plant site.59
Dry-storage options currently in use at U.S. nuclear utilities are metal storage
casks, concrete casks, and horizontal concrete modules. Also in use is a modular
vault at the closed Fort St. Vrain plant, a unique gas-cooled reactor. Those storage
facilities are listed in Table 2.
Electric Power Research Institute. Comparative System Economics of Concrete Casks for
Spent-Fuel Storage. EPRI TR-102415. June 1993. P. 7-2.
Appendix: History of U.S. Nuclear Waste Policy
Permanent disposal of highly radioactive waste has been an elusive federal goal
since the beginning of the U.S. nuclear weapons program during World War II.
Storage has always been assumed to be only for the short term, until a permanent
solution could be developed. But as decades passed and a permanent solution
appeared increasingly distant, policymakers periodically examined the potentially
more practical option of placing nuclear waste into facilities designed for long-term
storage. Each serious move toward long-term storage, however, has been eventually
quashed by concerns that such a step would undermine the federal government’s
motivation for developing permanent disposal facilities.
Early Storage Policies
Although the type of waste expected to be generated by the nuclear power
industry has changed from the highly radioactive residue of spent fuel reprocessing
to unreprocessed spent fuel, the federal government consistently intended to take
ultimate responsibility for permanent disposal. The need for storage by commercial
waste generators, either reprocessing plants or nuclear power plants, was expected
to be minimized.
Disposal of Reprocessing Waste. When the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
(AEC), a DOE predecessor, began its commercial nuclear power development
program in the 1950s, it asked the National Academy of Sciences to convene a panel
to study the disposal of the high-level radioactive waste that was expected to result
from spent fuel reprocessing. The panel recommended in 1957 that high-level waste
be permanently emplaced in deep underground salt beds;60 the search for such a site
became the basis for much of AEC’s subsequent disposal policy.
AEC issued a policy statement in 1970 that high-level commercial reprocessing
waste would have to be solidified within five years after being produced and
transferred to a permanent federal repository within 10 years. AEC planned to take
title to the waste in return for utility payments that would cover all the government’s
costs. In its explanation of the statement, the Commission anticipated that the first
repository would be in salt beds near Lyons, Kansas.61
In implementing its nuclear waste policy, the AEC encouraged the development
of commercial fuel reprocessing capacity to take spent fuel from the emerging
nuclear power industry. The first commercial reprocessing plant, at West Valley,
New York, opened in 1966; it primarily handled spent fuel from one of AEC’s
nuclear weapons materials production reactors, because relatively little spent fuel was
then available from commercial reactors. Closed in 1972 for a planned expansion and
modifications to reduce worker radiation exposure, the plant was never reopened.
National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council. The Disposal of Radioactive
Waste on Land. 1957.
Atomic Energy Commission. Siting of Fuel Reprocessing Plants and Related Waste
Management Facilities. 35 Federal Register 17530. Nov. 14, 1970.
While the West Valley plant was operating, General Electric Company (GE)
began building a reprocessing plant using somewhat different technology near
Morris, Illinois. GE signed contracts with several electric utilities that purchased GE
nuclear power plants, promising to take away spent fuel for reprocessing. However,
testing of the facility’s reprocessing equipment showed that it would not work
properly, and GE decided in 1974 not to put the plant into operation. GE agreed to
accept some spent fuel from utilities that had signed reprocessing contracts and store
it indefinitely at the Morris facility, where the material remains to date. Despite GE’s
problems, an industrial consortium proceeded with construction of a commercial
spent fuel reprocessing facility near Barnwell, South Carolina.
Once-Through Fuel Cycle. The Barnwell project was suspended when
President Carter changed federal nuclear energy policy in April 1977. Because of
concerns that widespread commercial reprocessing could lead to the diversion of
plutonium for nuclear weapons, Carter announced that the United States would
indefinitely defer commercial reprocessing and the use of plutonium fuel, as well as
deferring the commercial use of breeder reactors.62
Carter’s policy, which expanded on the Ford Administration’s doubts about
reprocessing, ended the Barnwell consortium’s hopes for federal assistance to
complete and operate the plant. Barnwell’s owners had sought federal funding in
1975 after concluding that reprocessing costs would be too high and the price of
newly mined uranium too low for the plant to be commercially viable, at least in the
near term. It had become apparent that utilities could buy fresh fuel from newly
mined uranium more cheaply than fuel made from reprocessed uranium and
plutonium, and that commercial breeder reactors requiring plutonium fuel were far
in the future.
After Carter’s policy change, NRC canceled its preparations for licensing of
plutonium fuel, eliminating the remaining hope of a market for Barnwell’s primary
product. However, Congress provided $10-20 million per year to keep Barnwell open
as a research and development facility.
President Reagan reversed Carter’s nuclear policies upon taking office four
years later, but the Administration also ended Barnwell’s annual research and
development funding. Because the economics of commercial reprocessing had not
improved, Barnwell’s owners shut the plant permanently in 1983. The same year,
Congress canceled the breeder reactor demonstration program for the second time.
Since then the United States has relied on the “once-through fuel cycle,” in which
spent fuel is considered waste to be discarded.
Without reprocessing plants to receive spent fuel, commercial nuclear power
plants had to deal with growing accumulations of spent fuel on site. The pools of
water at each reactor, which had been designed to cool discharged spent fuel until it
was shipped out for reprocessing, became indefinite storage facilities instead.
President Carter. Nuclear Power Policy: Statement on Decisions Reached Following a
Review. April 7, 1977.
Progress on the promised federal waste repository also did not go as planned
during the 1970s. The proposed site at Lyons, Kansas, was abandoned as technically
unsuitable in 1972. AEC then attempted to develop a “retrievable surface storage
facility” at a federal site for solidified commercial and defense high-level waste. But
the initiative was dropped by the Energy Research and Development Administration
(ERDA), a successor to AEC, after drawing objections that development of a longterm storage facility could supplant development of a permanent disposal site. Salt
beds near Carslbad, New Mexico, were considered for a repository after the
abandonment of the Lyons site, but the site was subsequently limited to disposal of
low-activity, long-lived defense waste. Now called the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
(WIPP), the facility has been under development since the early 1980s. Following
repeatedly missed target dates, DOE plans to begin disposal operations at WIPP in
ERDA and its successor in 1977, the Department of Energy (DOE), began
investigating a variety of sites throughout the nation for a permanent high-level waste
repository. States strongly resisted those investigations, however, and the program
became embroiled in controversy. To prevent reactor spent fuel pools from filling up
in the meantime, President Carter in 1980 proposed a federal “away from reactor”
storage program for commercial reactor spent fuel, but Congress did not authorize
such a facility before Carter left office in 1981.
NWPA Storage Provisions
Dissatisfaction with DOE’s progress on nuclear waste disposal prompted
Congress to act in the early 1980s. Supporters of legislative action hoped that the
controversy that had previously stymied the search for nuclear waste storage and
disposal sites could be overcome if Congress were able to establish a fair and
technically sound site selection framework. However, many lawmakers from
potential waste disposal regions expressed doubts that such a system could be
properly devised and implemented.
After several years of difficult debate, Congress passed the Nuclear Waste
Policy Act (NWPA) in December 1982 (P.L. 97-425). The new law required DOE
to narrow its repository candidate sites to three for intensive underground testing and
study; a repository would be constructed at one of those sites, if found suitable, and
opened by January 1998. To cover the program’s anticipated multibillion-dollar
costs, utilities were required to pay a fee on nuclear power generation. The fee, which
was passed through to ratepayers, was to be deposited in the Nuclear Waste Fund.
NWPA clarified that DOE’s top priority in nuclear waste management should
be permanent disposal. Implicit in the act was the policy that any federal facilities for
central storage of commercial spent fuel should not undermine progress on a
permanent repository. Nevertheless, there was a strong sentiment that temporary
spent fuel storage facilities might be necessary to relieve crowded reactor storage
pools or to improve the operation of the planned DOE waste management system.
NWPA attempted to resolve the tension between permanent disposal and
temporary storage by giving DOE three years to submit to Congress a proposal for
a “monitored retrievable storage” facility. It was specified that such a facility, if
authorized, would not take the place of the planned permanent repository, and the
costs would be paid from the Nuclear Waste Fund. NWPA also authorized a small
federal “interim storage program” for commercial reactors facing shutdown for lack
of spent fuel storage capacity.
Monitored Retrievable Storage. DOE initially envisioned the MRS facility
as a central collection site where reactor spent fuel would be received, inspected,
consolidated, packaged, and stored before shipment to a permanent repository. DOE
contended that such a facility would allow spent fuel to be taken sooner from nuclear
plant sites, perform functions that would otherwise be carried out at the repository
site, and improve the performance of the waste management system.
DOE’s proposal for an MRS facility was submitted to Congress in February
1986, recommending a federally owned site near Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and two
alternative sites also in Tennessee.63 The Tennessee sites were intended to minimize
the transportation distances from most reactors, which were predominantly in the
East. DOE planned for small shipments from plant sites to be consolidated into larger
waste-only rail shipments to the Western repository, minimizing the number of longdistance waste shipments.
Under the DOE plan, the MRS facility would have included a large wastehandling building, where spent fuel casks were to be loaded and unloaded in shielded
“hot cells” to protect workers from radiation. Additional hot cells were envisioned
for spent fuel consolidation — reducing the spacing between individual fuel rods —
for more efficient storage, transportation, and disposal. The total amount of spent fuel
stored at the site, in sealed concrete casks, was to be limited to 15,000 metric tons,
or about 20 percent of the amount planned for the permanent repository.
Reaction in Tennessee to the MRS siting proposal was strongly negative, and
the state’s congressional delegation fought DOE’s plan. The primary concern in the
state was that the MRS would become a “de facto” permanent repository, because the
availability of spent fuel storage would reduce the pressure for progress on the
planned underground repository. Once the underground repository fell far enough
behind schedule or was canceled, MRS opponents feared, the 15,000-metric-ton
restriction would eventually be lifted.
Congress responded to those concerns when it amended NWPA in 1987 (P.L.
100-203). DOE was authorized to site, construct, and operate an MRS facility, but
not until substantial progress was achieved on the permanent underground repository.
The 1987 NWPA amendments revoked DOE’s selection of the Tennessee sites and
placed additional restrictions on the MRS facility:
! DOE cannot search for a site until a special commission reports on the need
for an MRS facility (NWPA §144);
U.S. Department of Energy. Monitored Retrievable Storage Submission to Congress. Vol.
1-3. DOE/RW-0035/1. February 1986.
! DOE cannot select an MRS site until the Energy Secretary recommends a
repository site for presidential approval (§145(b));
! No site in Nevada may be selected for the MRS facility (§145(g));
! Construction of an MRS facility cannot begin until NRC has licensed the
construction of a permanent repository (§148(d)(1)), and MRS construction
must halt whenever the repository license is revoked or construction of the
repository ceases (§148(d)(2));
! No more than 10,000 metric tons of spent fuel may be stored at the MRS
facility until waste is shipped to a permanent repository (§148(d)(3)), with a
limit of 15,000 metric tons after that (§148(d)(4)).
Those provisions have effectively prevented DOE from developing a monitored
retrievable storage facility, since only the first condition (the special commission
report) has been met. The restrictions also eliminate one of the major benefits of an
MRS facility sought by utilities — central storage of spent fuel during delays in
repository development. Under the 1987 amendments, delays in the repository would
also delay the opening of an MRS facility.
Interim Storage Provisions. The interim storage program established by the
1982 act was extremely limited in scope and availability; it was intended to provide
emergency relief to nuclear reactors with no other storage alternatives. DOE was
authorized to provide storage for up to 1,900 metric tons of spent fuel at new or
existing storage facilities at federal sites, and by constructing additional storage
capacity at commercial reactor sites. DOE would take title to commercial spent fuel
placed in federal interim storage and transfer the material to a repository or MRS
facility within three years of their availability. As with MRS siting, federal interim
storage was prohibited in any state with a candidate repository site.
Unlike the MRS facility, whose costs were to be covered by the Nuclear Waste
Fund, the DOE interim storage program was to be financed solely by the nuclear
utilities that needed it. A Treasury account called the Interim Storage Fund was
established to receive the fees for that service. As a result, any utility making use of
federal interim storage would have paid a separate fee into the Interim Storage Fund
as well as the standard fee that all nuclear utilities contribute to the Nuclear Waste
Commercial reactors were allowed to use DOE interim storage facilities only
if NRC determined that they could not reasonably provide sufficient storage capacity
of their own. NWPA specified that such reactors had to be “diligently pursuing”
alternative storage arrangements, including expanding their existing storage capacity,
procuring spent fuel storage casks, and transferring spent fuel to other reactor sites.
After the enactment of NWPA and the interim storage provisions, nuclear
utilities began demonstrating the feasibility of moving spent fuel from reactor pools
into dry casks, which could be stored at reactor sites. Spent fuel has generally cooled
sufficiently to be removed from pools in 5-10 years. A dry cask storage facility was
licensed by NRC for the Surry nuclear plant in Virginia in 1986, and dry cask storage
at other sites soon followed. Because of the availability of the dry cask storage
option, and the charges for federal interim storage, the NWPA interim storage
program was never implemented. No applications for storage were submitted to
NRC, and DOE did not identify any potential interim storage sites.64 DOE’s authority
to provide interim storage expired Jan. 1, 1990.
Nuclear Waste Negotiator. The 1987 NWPA amendments established an
alternative method for finding sites for nuclear waste facilities. In addition to having
DOE select sites and then try to impose them on states and localities, the alternative
system was designed to develop negotiated terms for voluntary sites. Because DOE
was viewed as having little credibility with potential volunteers, the amendments set
up an independent Office of the Nuclear Waste Negotiator to approach state and local
governments and Indian tribes. Funding for the office was to be appropriated from
the Nuclear Waste Fund. Although the Waste Negotiator was authorized to seek
voluntary sites for both nuclear waste storage and disposal, the office focused almost
exclusively on finding a site for an MRS facility.
DOE attached substantial importance to the Waste Negotiator in the early 1990s,
because the voluntary siting process appeared to be the only way to open an MRS
facility in time to begin receiving spent fuel by NWPA’s 1998 deadline. As noted
above, DOE was barred by the 1987 amendments from selecting an MRS site until
recommending a repository site to the President, a recommendation that was not
expected until the late 1990s. The Bush Administration’s 1991 National Energy
Strategy proposed unlinking the MRS from the repository, but that provision was
excluded from the resulting Energy Policy Act of 1992.
Any “reasonable and appropriate” inducements for hosting a waste facility were
allowed to be offered by the Waste Negotiator. Among the benefits suggested by the
Negotiator’s office were guarantees of local oversight, highway and airport
improvements, higher education programs, tax benefits, economic development
activities, health care programs, direct federal payments, and the siting of desirable
federal facilities. However, no agreement produced by the Negotiator was allowed
to take effect without congressional approval. It was presumed that such approval
would include a waiver of the statutory restrictions on MRS facility siting and
operation, allowing storage to begin well in advance of repository operations.
The first Negotiator, former Idaho Lt. Governor David H. Leroy, was confirmed
in August 1990. The office issued a formal intent to negotiate waste site agreements
June 5, 1991; on the same day, DOE announced the availability of grants from the
Nuclear Waste Fund to state, tribal, and qualifying local governments for MRS site
feasibility studies. DOE awarded 16 “phase I” and “phase IIa” feasibility study grants
totaling $1.9 million.
DOE had planned to award “phase IIb” grants of up to $2.8 million apiece to
qualified applicants, but Congress halted the IIb grants in October 1993 (P.L. 103126), largely because of opposition by the New Mexico delegation to a IIb grant
U.S. Department of Energy. Implementation Plan for Deployment of Federal Interim
Storage Facilities for Commercial Spent Fuel. DOE/RW-0218. January 1989. p. 10.
application from the Mescalero Apache Tribe of New Mexico. After their grant was
blocked, the Mescalero Apaches suspended discussions with the Negotiator’s office
and began pursuing a non-government spent fuel storage facility in partnership with
nuclear utilities. The Mescaleros and the utility consortium ended their joint effort
in April 1996.
Former Representative Richard Stallings of Idaho took over as Waste Negotiator
in November 1993. At the request of the Negotiator’s office, DOE performed
preliminary site assessments for the Mescaleros and three other Indian tribes: the Ft.
McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe in Oregon, the Tonkawa Tribe of Oklahoma, and
the Skull Valley Goshutes of Utah. After the Mescaleros withdrew from the process,
the Negotiator carried out preliminary dialogues with the other three tribes.
Several local governments expressed interest in pursuing MRS negotiations, but
they either were overruled by their state governments or by local voters. As a result,
discussions proceeded almost entirely with Indian tribes, who were not subject to
state control. The Negotiator faced difficult questions about whether to seek an
agreement with an Indian tribe over the objections of the state, and what
congressional reaction to such an agreement might have been. Authority for the
Office of the Waste Negotiator expired Jan. 21, 1995, without any proposed siting
agreements having been reached. However, the Skull Valley Goshutes have
continued working with a utility consortium to develop a spent fuel storage facility