Jeremy van Loon over at Bloomberg has a piece up talking about the “waste problem” that will result from the nuclear renaissance. He asserts that we don’t have a permanent solution yet for storing used nuclear fuel. But he glosses over what we think needs to be a major part of the world’s solution managing used fuel – recycling.
What he misses is the enormous waste – pun intended – involved in the U.S.’s current once-through fuel cycle. He briefly mentions recycling deep down in the article…
Spent fuel is an “opportunity” because it contains un-used energy, said Lisa Price, vice president for the fuel business of GE.
Recycling used fuel into new fuel for reactors is done in a few nations such as France. It’s one solution for the “final storage” of radioactive material, said a spokeswoman at Areva, the biggest reactor builder.
…but doesn’t place enough emphasis on the importance of recycling used nuclear fuel. We don’t throw cans, bottles, or paper in the trash can anymore, because we realize how wasteful it is to throw away something that could be recycled into more cans, bottles, and paper. Used nuclear fuel is the same way: isn’t the solution to the massive quantities of used nuclear fuel – fuel that still has a lot of useful energy left in it – to reprocess it and get more energy out of it?
AREVA’s recycling process – which has been proven over decades in France – pulls the useful energy out of that used nuclear fuel, and reduces the rest of the high-level waste to compact and vitrified (glass) logs, which can be stored safely away from the environment. As AREVA’s EVP Dr. Alan Hanson wrote in his op-ed in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer a couple of weeks ago, recycling could divide “by at least four” the amount of material that would need to be placed in long-term storage. In addition to reducing the amount of waste – and putting it in a much safer vitrified configuration – recycling spent fuel would give us more useful fuel for nuclear reactors, fuel that’s already being safely used in many countries including France, China, and Japan.
Jeremy van Loon is right to point out that if nuclear power is going to be a part of the world’s long-term carbon-free energy solution, we need a more sustainable solution for managing used fuel. But we can’t – and shouldn’t – gloss over a process that can
cut the volume of waste for disposal by a factor of four and produce even more useful material to use in reactors. Recycling absolutely must be a part of our nuclear energy future – and we’re proud to be leading the way in innovation for better, more efficient recycling solutions.