Nuclear Waste:

Development of Casks for Transporting Spent Fuel Needs Modification

RCED-92-56: Published: Mar 13, 1992. Publicly Released: Apr 1, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed Department of Energy (DOE) efforts to implement transportation-related activities under the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1987, which requires DOE to investigate Yucca Mountain, Nevada, as a potential site for the permanent disposal of nuclear waste in an underground repository and to construct a repository at the site if it finds that the site is appropriate.

GAO found that: (1) in 1988, a utility association concluded that DOE was moving too fast with its Cask Development Program, since the spent-fuel storage conditions that DOE was designing the casks for might materially change by the time DOE was able to begin shipping utilities' spent fuel; (2) the utility industry recommended that DOE reassess the scope and timing of its Cask Development Program and, at most, design a truck cask only, due to uncertainty regarding the development of a Monitored Retrievable Storage (MRS) facility, uncertainty over the length of time needed before a repository will be completed, and concerns about the proposed casks and how the transportation system would interface with nuclear power plants; (3) DOE intends to resolve technical and operational concerns regarding its preliminary cask designs during the final design phase; (4) due to concerns that the combined weight of the truck cask and the truck that would haul the cask might exceed the weight limit for highways, DOE is considering hardware and operational options to reduce total transporter system weight; (5) it is unlikely that DOE will be able to develop a MRS facility by 1998 because states and Indian tribes are reluctant to host facilities for storing or disposing of highly radioactive wastes; and (6) the uncertainty regarding MRS facility development and the current extended repository schedule gives DOE ample time to address unresolved technical and operational cask development issues before committing to specific cask designs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE conducted a feasibility study of the impacts on its cask program of utilities' interests in expanding onsite storage by use of multipurpose containers. As a result, DOE has now decided to develop multipurpose containters that will be capable of storing and transporting spent fuel, including storage at utilities nuclear plant sites. These containers would largely replace DOE previous cask systems development program.

    Recommendation: In conjunction with this pause, the Secretary of Energy should assess, in the absence of a MRS facility, the potential effects of utilities' actions to expand their on-site spent-fuel storage capacity on the cask systems development program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE concurred with this recommendation and stated this is being done through an independent assessment of cask designs. Subsequently, DOE stated that the assessment had been completed and that cask contractors are responsible for incorporating the results into their designs.

    Recommendation: In conjunction with this pause, the Secretary of Energy should factor into cask designs nuclear industry transportation experience, the final results of the DOE facility interface study, and the unique features of certain spent fuel from boiling water receptors.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOE disagreed with this recommendation on the basis that, if the need for casks was delayed, to halt cask development after cask design certification but before cask fabrication would be more logical and cost-effective. As of late 1993, however, DOE had not submitted the final designs of any civilian nuclear waste disposal program casks to NRC for certification.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should refrain from submitting the final design of any cask to NRC for certification at least until DOE has demonstrated that a state or tribe has agreed, in principle, to host an MRS facility at a specific site.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOE disagreed with this recommendation on the basis that a storage facility could be operational by 1998 that must be supported by adequate transport capability. DOE has put its cask development activities on hold for technical reasons and will not submit final cask designs to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for certification until the concerns have been satisfied.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should limit funding for the cask-system development program to the amount necessary to complete final-design work planned for fiscal year 1992 on the casks currently being developed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE concurred and stated that it has completed an independent reassessment of its cask designs and concluded that it has identified a truck cask, tractor, and trailer combination within the legal weight limit.

    Recommendation: In conjunction with this pause, the Secretary of Energy should determine whether the truck cask, in combination with its tractor and trailer, is too heavy and, if so, the most cost-effective approach to reducing the weight.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

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