'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.

Yucca Mountain

If you are keen to know everything about Yucca Mountain, read BLDG BLOG: One Million Years Of Isolation: An Interview With Abraham Van Luik. Seekerblog isn’t much interested in Yucca Mountain because we now know that we do not want to “bury” the incredibly valuable asset of unburned nuclear fuel.

I found the link to the BLDG BLOG article on Stewart Brand’s Chapter 4 webpage. In stark contrast to the Yucca Mountain fiasco Canada has developed a sensible strategy for managing unburned nuclear fuel — again from Brand’s page:

A year after the Yucca trip, Global Business Network was invited to run a scenario workshop for Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization, which was conducting a series of meetings to explore what Canada should do with the waste from its twenty-two CANDU nuclear reactors.…

After eighty meetings across Canada, the nation’s nuclear waste policy emerged. It is based, says a report from the organization, on the principle of “Respect for Future Generations: we should not prejudge the needs and capabilities of the future. Rather than acting in a paternalistic way, we should leave the choice of what to do with the used fuel for them to determine.” Accordingly, Canada has an “adaptive phased management” plan, where the spent fuel remains in wet and dry storage at the reactor sites while a “near term” (1 to 175 years) centralized shallow underground facility is built, designed for easy retrieval; that will be followed by a deep geological repository for permanent storage. Future Canadians have options at every step. No mention is made of 10,000 years. The report does note that “during the 175-year period, the overall radioactivity of used fuel drops to one-billionth of the level when it was removed from the reactors.…

Hazards of nuclear "waste" — the great myth

This is chapter 11 of Prof. Bernard Cohen’s book “The Nuclear Energy Option“. The first paragraph is a good summary of the chapter:

An important reason for the public’s concern about nuclear power is an unjustifiable fear of the hazards from radioactive waste. Even people whom I know to be intelligent and knowledgeable about energy issues have told me that their principal reservation about use of nuclear power is the disposal of radioactive waste. Often called an unsolved problem, many consider it to be the Achilles’ heel of nuclear power. Several states have laws prohibiting construction of nuclear power plants until the waste disposal issue is settled. Yet ironically, there is general agreement among the scientists involved with waste management that radioactive waste disposal is a rather trivial technical problem. Having studied this problem as one of my principal research specialties over the past 15 years, I am thoroughly convinced that radioactive waste from nuclear power operations represents less of a health hazard than waste from any other large technological industry. Clearly there is a long and complex story to tell.