This paper provides a comparative assessment of low-level radioactive waste (LLW) life-cycle costs for U.S. commercial disposal facilities. This assessment includes both currently operational facilities and planned commercial facilities.
After identifying the individual facility’s operational period, current or planned capacity, and historical disposal volumes (where applicable), the paper describes the respective facilities’ waste acceptance criteria, anticipated waste characteristics, and disposal technologies employed.
A brief identification of key components of cost categories that constitute life-cycle cost for the disposal facilities is provided, as well as an identification of factors that affect life-cycle cost. A more specific comparison of certain life-cycle cost components for the disposal facilities is provided, with regard to U.S. LLW disposal volumes and characteristics. Similarities and differences in total life-cycle cost and life-cycle category-specific costs among the U.S. facilities are presented and discussed. The data presented reveals that:
• No new LLW commercial disposal facilities have been sited in the U.S. since 1988, and that siting of LLW disposal facilities in the U.S. has become increasingly difficult and contentious, necessitating long lead times and significant up-front costs — without any certainty of success.
• Overall, life-cycle costs for LLW disposal at U.S. commercial facilities have increased significantly over time, reflecting increased regulatory compliance requirements, state-imposed access fees and taxes, local community hosting incentive costs, and cost escalation inherent in delays in establishing facilities or modifying existing licensed facilities.
• Life-cycle costs are also significantly affected by the nature of the engineered isolation technology employed, reflecting the geologic characteristics of the siting location and the activity levels of the wastes accepted.
• Since many of the newly-planned facilities anticipate receiving lower total volumes with an increasingly greater percentage of higher activity wastes (than historical volumes disposed) and are to be sited in more ecologically sensitive geologic regions, they will require more comprehensive — and hence more expensive — engineered isolation technologies.
As a result, currently planned facilities are anticipated to experience significantly higher total life-cycle costs than existing operational facilities.