Existing Nuclear Sites Can Be Used for New Powerplants and Nuclear Waste Storage

EMD-80-67: Published: Apr 1, 1980. Publicly Released: Apr 10, 1980.

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GAO was requested to evaluate whether existing nuclear powerplant sites can be used (1) as locations for new powerplants, and (2) to dispose of wastes from nuclear powerplant operations.

Most of the Nation's nuclear powerplant sites can support one or more additional powerplants. Advantages of this include (1) limiting the number of locations committed to long-term restricted use and periodic surveillance and maintenance; (2) easing the burden of long-term care and final disposition of retired nuclear powerplants; (3) reducing the overall environmental impacts from the construction and maintenance of these plants; and (4) saving time and money in completing licensing proceedings. Storage of spent fuel onsite for 3 to 10 years would allow much of the radioactivity to decay, but eventually the spent fuel must be transferred offsite to long-term storage or to a reprocessing plant. The potential exists for storage of low-level wastes at all nuclear powerplant sites, but onsite storage only postpones the final disposition of these wastes. Permanent disposal at nuclear powerplant sites should only be permitted if the sites are capable of meeting regional needs as established in the low-level waste disposal plan being prepared by the Department of Energy. GAO believed that a properly formulated and implemented policy of locating new powerplants at existing sites need not constrain or stifle expansion of the Nation's nuclear power program. Implementation of a policy favoring expansion of existing sites over the next two decades would permit a short-term period of physical entrenchment at a time when the long-term future of nuclear power generation may be decided or more clearly perceived.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should: specify in the Commission's alternative site evaluation regulation that utilities must include available existing sites among their alternative sites for new nuclear powerplants; determine (1) if there are inherent advantages to limiting the number of nuclear powerplant sites by locating new powerplants at existing sites, and (2) the weight any such advantages should receive in environmental cost-benefit balancing; develop a policy on the use of existing sites for new nuclear powerplants which recognizes the environmental advantages and the potential constraints on practical implementation; and require utilities proposing to store low-level nuclear wastes at nuclear powerplant sites to provide specific plans for eventually disposing of these wastes, including assurances that funds will be available for disposal costs.

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