Hazardous and Solid Waste

Disposing of Nuclear Waste–Centralized Storage

Centralized storage sites would be used to consolidate nuclear waste that would be transported from the 121 facilities generating the waste for which DOE is responsible. The primary advantage of centralized storage is that it would allow DOE to take possession of the waste and terminate or at least, truncate the lawsuits the department is facing for failing to meet the 1998 deadline required by DOE’s contract with industry.

Some view centralized storage as an ideal interim solution to managing waste while laws are rewritten and new approaches taken to make a permanent geologic repository a reality. The life span of a centralized storage site is generally estimated at 100 years, or the period of time NRC believes that nongeologic nuclear waste storage can be safely effected. Removing waste now held at nine shutdown nuclear reactors would allow that land to be put to other uses and relieve power companies of the cost—estimated at $4 million to $8 million annually—of maintaining these sites. The costs of building additional on-site storage capacity as current capacity is used up are also avoided.

The leading obstacle to centralized storage is lack of authority and funding under NWPA for DOE to build and operate such facilities.

In addition, it would be extremely difficult for DOE to find a state(s) willing to accept the siting of centralized storage. Even if a statute was written requiring DOE to remove the waste after 100 years, experience with Yucca Mountain suggests that there is no guarantee that a permanent geologic repository can be ready to accept nuclear waste under any deadline. In other words, centralized storage could potentially become de facto permanent storage.

Also, the prospect of transporting the waste twice—to centralized storage and then to permanent geologic storage—constitutes twice the risk posed by potential accidents and terrorist activity. Land values along such a route are certain to plummet. While states would be compensated for accepting these risks, DOE officials told GAO that 15 to 20 years ago, a DOE nuclear waste negotiator found no incentive package that successfully encouraged a state to voluntarily host a site.

GAO estimates that the cost of centralized storage would range from $12 billion to $20 billion for 70,000 tons of nuclear waste and from $15 billion to $29 billion for 153,000 tons. The costs of any geologic disposal that would follow would be additional.