The Department of Energy later this month will target three potential sites for an intermediate packaging plant for spent nuclear fuel that officials say will be located in the Southeast.

Ginger King, speaking for DOE's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, said that over the past year, the department has been considering more than 20 southeastern locations as possible sites for the facility.

Department officials would not provide the entire list of sites that are under consideration, or have been considered.

King, however, confirmed four of them: the abandoned Yellow Creek nuclear power plant near Iuka, Miss.; the site of the canceled Clinch River breeder reactor in Oak Ridge, Tenn.; another site in Oak Ridge, and a site in Erwin, Tenn.

King said that in determining which sites to consider, DOE used Knoxville, Tenn., as a center point and drew a circle with a radius of approximately 100 miles.

DOE then looked at federal sites or locations in the region previously "docketed" by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as having been considered or cleared for possession of nuclear materials, King said.

Knoxville was chosen as the middle point because it was determined to be in the center of the area in which much of the nation's commercial spent nuclear fuel is generated.

King stressed that Congress has still not approved the establishment of an intermediate location.

If Congress does act, one site would eventually be chosen and would come on-line in about 1996.

The sites being reviewed are for an "intermediate packaging facility for spent fuel from commercial reactors prior to sending it to a permanent repository," said King.

Washington, Nevada and Texas are DOE's top choices for the permanent repository, which is scheduled to begin operation in 1998, King said.