Temporarily storing spent fuel in a central location offers several positive attributes, as well as challenges, as GAO reported in November 2009 and August 2012. Positive attributes include allowing DOE to consolidate the nation's nuclear waste after reactors are decommissioned. Consolidation would decrease the complexity of securing and overseeing the waste located at reactor sites around the nation and would allow DOE to begin to address the taxpayer financial liabilities stemming from industry lawsuits. Interim storage could also provide the nation with some flexibility to consider alternative policies or new technologies. However, interim storage faces several challenges. First, DOE's statutory authority to develop interim storage is uncertain. Provisions in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, as amended, that allow DOE to arrange for centralized interim storage have either expired or are unusable because they are tied to milestones in repository development that have not been met. Second, siting an interim storage facility could prove difficult. Even if a community might be willing to host a centralized interim storage facility, finding a state that would be willing to host such a facility could be challenging, particularly since some states have voiced concerns that an interim facility could become a de facto permanent disposal site. Third, interim storage may also present transportation challenges since it is likely that the spent fuel would have to be transported twice -- once to the interim storage site and once to a permanent disposal site. Finally, developing centralized interim storage would not ultimately preclude the need for a permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel.
Siting, licensing, and developing a permanent repository at a location other than Yucca Mountain could provide the opportunity to find a location that might achieve broader acceptance, as GAO reported in November 2009 and August 2012, and could help avoid costly delays experienced by the Yucca Mountain repository program. However, developing an alternative repository would restart the likely costly and time-consuming process of developing a repository. It is also unclear whether the Nuclear Waste Fund--established under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, as amended, to pay industry's share of the cost for the Yucca Mountain repository--will be sufficient to fund a repository at another site.
University of Michigan professor Rodney Ewing, Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board addressed issues relating to: 1. What do international and U.S. experiences tell us about consent-based siting? 2. What can we learn from Yucca Mountain, technically and otherwise? 3. What is the current thinking and consensus around preferable options for nuclear waste disposal and the siting of a geologic repository? He summarized his testimony saying, "I would observe that not using a consent-based approach for repository siting can slow the process or lead to delay or failure, but using a consent-based process does not guarantee that a repository will be successfully sited. Programs in other countries are using a variety of consent-based approaches, with mixed results. Deep-mined geologic disposal remains the approach that is being pursued by most of the countries with nuclear waste programs, worldwide, and a deep geologic repository will be needed regardless of the fuel cycle option selected. The only operating deep-mined geologic repository in the world for disposal of radioactive waste is the WIPP [Waste Isolation Pilot Plant] facility in New Mexico, and important lessons can be taken from the development of that facility. Finally, ongoing, independent technical oversight of the activities undertaken by the implementer of a consent-based repository-siting program is crucial, regardless of whether the implementing entity is a government agency, a non-governmental organization, or a federal corporation."