The Energy Communities Alliance is asking questions about the cost of storing high-level radioactive waste and used nuclear fuel at Hanford and other Department of Energy sites in the absence of a federal repository.
"The costs associated with storing and securing this waste can be significant and the money to do so comes out of cleanup budgets," wrote the alliance in a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu on Tuesday.
The alliance is a group of local governments near Department of Energy sites and is led by Bob Thompson, a Richland City Council member, who signed the letter as alliance chairman.
At Hanford, 2,300 tons of irradiated fuel that had been stored in the K Basins was expected to be sent to a planned repository in Yucca Mountain, Nev. High-level radioactive waste now stored in underground tanks also was expected to go there once it is turned into a stable glass form at the Hanford vitrification plant.
However, DOE has moved to terminate the Yucca Mountain project after spending about $10 billion, and the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future has been formed to consider other options.
In the meantime, Hanford's high-level waste and used fuel is expected to be stored at Hanford, possibly for decades.
The alliance is "concerned that using cleanup funding to store and secure defense-related high-level waste and spent fuel might prevent other essential cleanup activities from being completed," the alliance said in a statement.
At Hanford, costs could include security to continue storing used fuel, the cost of building a structure to store the glassified waste as it is produced at the vitrification plant. With only preliminary planning done, DOE has estimated construction costs in a range of up to about $240 million.
The costs are a concern, particularly given recent budget cuts for DOE's environmental management program, the letter said. Money for DOE defense site cleanup, which includes Hanford, drops to $5 billion in a continuing resolution passed this spring for the current fiscal year. It was $5.6 billion in the 2010 federal budget, according to alliance figures.
How that cut is proposed to be split among DOE sites should be known within two weeks.
The letter to Chu also asked for a review of safety issues at Hanford and other DOE nuclear defense sites.
"The issue of defense-related high-level waste and spent fuel storage -- if safety and security issues are not regularly reviewed and addressed -- can have an impact on local communities, as we are reminded by the tragic incident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station," the letter said.
The alliance has been told by DOE that the storage of high-level radioactive waste and used fuel is safe, and most communities believe the waste does not pose any immediate threat, the letter said.
However, a review "would help to build trust among DOE, local communities and the public," it said.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org; More Hanford news at hanfordnews.com.