GAO report cites challenges in transporting, storing spent nuclear fuel

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report recently on the legislative, technical and societal challenges faced when transporting and storing spent nuclear fuel within the U.S.

The GAO took on this study due to the high level of risk involved in transporting nuclear fuel due to its radioactivity. The report said that approximately 72,000 metric tons of used nuclear fuel is currently being stored at 75 sites in 33 states.

Legislative challenges include a lack of authority for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to be able to establish interim and more permanent disposal sites. In an amendment to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the government directed the DOE to terminate work on sites other than the Yucca Mountain disposal site.

Public perception of nuclear energy and its associated spent fuel also plays a significant role. The GAO found that to build public support for this activity, the facts and issues relating to it need to be established in the public's mind. In this regard, the GAO recommends that the DOE pursue information and outreach programs to better inform the public.

In the technical realm, GAO found that current transport methods for spent-fuel are inadequate. This is due to guidelines on stored nuclear fuel regarding heat and radioactivity, which are higher with newer fuel that burns hotter and longer. The GAO said this can be addressed, but it will likely take significant amounts of money and time to improve transportation infrastructure to meet the needs of nuclear-fuel transport.

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U.S. Government Accountability Office

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