Recycling Still Offers Solid Near Term Option for U.S.


By David Jones, Vice President, Used Fuel Management

Recycling used fuel from America’s nuclear power plants, using technology available in the near term, represents a solid option for the United States. As we have stated before, recycling nuclear fuel is a proven solution that makes waste management easier, conserves natural resources, is cost competitive and reduces proliferation concerns.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology study issued a study yesterday on The Future of the Nuclear Fuel that included a number of sound recommendations, such as the creation of a quasi-government organization to implement a used fuel management strategy. However, its conclusion regarding near-term recycling merely kicks the tough decisions down the road and largely ignores the benefits it could provide.

The finding that near-term recycling is not necessary because there is no shortage of uranium resources misses the mark. It begs the question of why are we recycling glass or paper? Are we recycling glass because there is a shortage of natural resources for making new glass? No. Are we recycling paper because it is cheaper? No.

Additionally, the recommendations do not support a sustainable nuclear fuel cycle approach that supports nuclear growth scenarios. It recommends storage of used fuel for up to a century while R&D programs help answer the question “Is used fuel a waste or a resource?”—This is contrary to what is being done in nearly every other country where this question is addressed up front as a matter or policy.

The report also recommends the U.S. offer fuel leasing to other countries—but seems to fail to recognize the credibility issue of this concept. How can we expect to demonstrate leadership to the world on used fuel management when we cannot decide ourselves if used fuel is a waste or a resource?

The U.S. government already has contracts to take back commercial used fuel from U.S. electric utilities. The utilities and their customers that have contributed over $30 billion to the Nuclear Waste Fund for this service are suing the government over breach of these contracts. How can we build public acceptance for a fuel leasing arrangement with other countries when we cannot demonstrate the will to address our own inventories?

Because the conclusions of the MIT study are based on technical and economic bases, they cannot truly be considered “interdisciplinary” as the title suggests. The motivations of other nations, such as France, Japan and the United Kingdom, to recycle are not purely economic but also are informed by questions of energy security, resource conservation, public acceptance and others that reside in the social sciences.

We have confirmed that used fuel can be stored effectively at U.S. plant sites for decades, but recycling offers a safe, competitive and more sustainable alternative. That is why nearly every nation with a significant nuclear power sector, with the exception of the United States, has embraced recycling.

AREVA is the world leader in the nuclear fuel cycle and has decades of experience recycling used fuel for its customers around the world. Over the past 25 years, AREVA has safely and successfully recycled more than 24,000 metric tons of used fuel.

Click here for more on AREVA’s views on the potential for recycling in the U.S.

Tags: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, MIT Study

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