'Plan D' for Spent Nuclear Fuel

Published by Program in Arms Control, Disarmament, and International Security (ACDIS), University of Illinois

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Summary

An impasse on spent nuclear fuel management would have several effects. It would render the U.S. government liable to billions of dollars in legal fees for failure to take title to spent nuclear fuel. It would result in extra costs and security risks from suboptimal management of spent fuel at reactor sites. It would also leave nuclear fuel cycle research and development without a clear roadmap. Such a situation not only would be deleterious domestically but also would undermine U.S. influence on matters related to energy and security internationally.

The reality appears to be that most U.S. spent nuclear fuel is likely to remain where it was generated for an extended period of time. Managing this situation efficiently and laying the groundwork for a functional transition to long-term spent fuel management require paying careful attention to the financial situations of nuclear reactor site owners and the host states for long-term spent fuel management facilities. These observations led to seven recommendations, each of which would each require U.S. congressional action for implementation.

This report documents the recent success achieved in reaching a consensus on how to revise U.S. management of spent nuclear fuel. This consensus was reached at a workshop held on March 16, 2009, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Organized by the university’s Program in Arms Control, Disarmament, and International Security, the workshop attracted participants from nuclear engineering programs at seven Midwestern universities. In their deliberations, these participants drew upon the findings of an earlier workshop held on June 6, 2008, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy and upon interviews in Washington, D.C., with dozens of congressional staff members. All of these efforts were supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation through its Science, Technology, and Security Initiative.

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