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DOE’s Next Test Site for Storing Spent Fuel Promises No Nuclear Waste

The Department of Energy on Monday announced it has chosen four companies to develop proposals for test sites to explore storing nuclear waste thousands of feet underground.

The eventual test project will not involve any nuclear waste, but one of the primary purposes is to learn about the possibilities of storing spent fuel three miles underground, according to Andrew Griffith, deputy assistant secretary for spent fuel and waste disposition who spoke with reporters on a conference call Monday. The field test could also provide data about geothermal energy, rock formations, drilling techniques and underground temperatures.

This is the department’s second attempt at a field test after it abandoned one in June in South Dakota over local concerns that the site would eventually be used to store nuclear waste. The new contract “specifically prohibits” the storage of nuclear waste and requires the hole dug for the test to be permanently sealed after the field test is finished, Griffith said.

Engineering firm AECOM proposed a site in Texas; ENERCON, another engineering firm, and environmental services company TerranearPMC each proposed a site in New Mexico; and consulting firm RESPEC proposed one in South Dakota.

The Energy Department has not said which towns in each state are under consideration. It will choose one town out of the four proposals for the field test, according to Griffith, who would not say when the potential site locations will be announced. Griffith also declined to say how much the department will spend on the project.

The series of proposals should have more success in garnering local support because “the community engagement was established before the proposals were ever submitted,” Griffith said.

The Energy Department will choose one team’s proposal in a little more that a year, Griffith said. In the next five months, the companies will seek to finalize all the necessary local leases, hold public meetings and put together a plan for public engagement, he added. In the five months after that, the teams will seek to finalize county and state permits and approvals, and some of the teams will be eliminated, Griffith said. In the following four-month period, the remaining teams will submit a drilling and test plan, after which the testing company will be selected.