By Jarret Adams
In an excellent cover story in this month’s Power magazine, writers James Hylko and Robert Peltier examine why the current U.S. policy for managing used nuclear fuel has put the country on a “road to nowhere.” They write:
The Nuclear Waste Policy Act and Amendments of 1982 and 1987 established a national policy and schedule for developing geologic repositories for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive wastes. Those deadlines have come and gone; the cancellation of Yucca Mountain was only the latest failure of this policy to become reality. The task of finding a new storage location is now a political committee’s homework assignment. History tells us that committee members have been given an impossible task.
The article recounts the history of the Yucca Mountain program with all of its ups and downs, bringing us the present when the proposed repository in “off the close.” For the time being, they note that onsite storage is the only option.
Today, the only available solution for utilities is to store SNF [spent nuclear fuel] on-site in water pools or in long-term above-ground storage casks. The volume of the water pools within each reactor limits the number of fuel assemblies it can hold at one time. Conceptually, the number of dry casks that can be used to store SNF is unlimited.
The conclusion they reach is one that we have been trying to make repeatedly here in this space: that recycling nuclear fuel represents a solid option for the U.S. as part of an integrated plan for managing used fuel.
The elegant solution is nuclear fuel reprocessing, perhaps primed by reprogramming NWF [Nuclear Waste Fund] money into building such a facility. But we’ll hold that discussion for another day.
The NWF was intended to pay for the Yucca Mountain repository from a 1 mill per kilowatt fee on nuclear-generated electricity. Electricity customers have paid more than $30 billion into this fund since its inception, and today no repository exists.
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