Status and Commercial Potential of the Barnwell Nuclear Fuel Plant

Gao ID: RCED-84-21 March 28, 1984

In response to a congressional request, GAO examined the status of the Barnwell Nuclear Fuel Plant and its potential for becoming operational as a commercial venture.

Barnwell Nuclear Fuel Plant is a partially constructed plant valued at about $500 million. The plant was officially closed on December 31, 1983. While GAO could not predict that the plant can be licensed and successfully operated, it found no fundamental problems that would prohibit the plant from operating when completed. However, a number of technical concerns and licensing issues need to be resolved. Additional facilities would have to be built and existing facilities modified at an estimated cost of $700 million. The complex would have to be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which would be a lengthy process. In addition, GAO found that the economic prospect for the plant as a commercial venture is not promising, and it is difficult to predict when, or if, reprocessing might become a profitable business venture because of the uncertain future of nuclear power. Industry representatives contacted by GAO believe that the Federal Government would have to address three issues before they would seriously consider any commercial reprocessing venture: (1) whether the owners of domestic nuclear powerplants will be permitted to use plutonium recovered from commercial reprocessing in manufacturing nuclear fuel; (2) the acceptable waste form for disposing of high-level radioactive wastes produced from commercial reprocessing operations; and (3) whether the Federal Government is willing to protect future commercial reprocessing ventures from losses stemming from changes in Government policy.

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