Reuters, Alina Selyukh: Although no U.S. company now reuses its nuclear waste, the country has a long-running history with the technology. Following are timeline highlights of the U.S. inquiry into reprocessing and events that framed it. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were most influential in stopping reprocessing of used nuclear fuel. This material along with depleted uranium from enrichment programs can provide all the electrical energy needs at 1994 levels for over 700 years. If our enemies took this much energy away from America, there would be all out war. But our Presidents and Congress can do that without much of a stir from the American people.
Eric Jelinski, Nuclear/Chemical/Mechanical Engineer: From the beginning of use of commercial nuclear power in the 1960s, scientists and engineers knew that the long term future of nuclear power depended on recycling of uranium spent fuel. Anti-nuclear organizations managed to get several U.S. presidents to stop development of advanced nuclear power technologies that can use recycled spent nuclear fuel efficiently. France, Japan, Russia, and the U.S. worked on developing recycling technologies practically from the beginning. France, Russia, China, Korea are going ahead with developing spent nuclear fuel technology. They will be well rewarded. Those who bend to anti-nuclear organizations will be held back at significant price.
James Conca, Geochemist: Yucca Mountain has always been political, from its initial choice to its recent death. The problem this time is that most of our high-level nuclear waste is no longer high-level. And most scientists agree we shouldn’t dispose of spent nuclear fuel until we reuse it in our new reactors that are designed to burn it. Besides, the highly-fractured, variably saturated, dual-porosity volcanic tuff at Yucca Mountain with highly oxidizing groundwater, was the wrong rock to begin with, causing the cost to skyrocket and the technical hurdles to keep mounting. Anti-nuclear activists have used Yucca Mt. to oppose the new generation of nuclear power plants by saying we have no place to put the waste. Unfortunately, everyone has focused on the political and legal aspects without understanding the science. And we know what happens when Human Law runs into Natural Law – Natural Law wins every time.
Congressional Research Service, The Library of Congress: As part of the World War II effort to develop the atomic bomb, reprocessing technology was developed to chemically separate and recover fissionable plutonium from irradiated nuclear fuel. Federally sponsored breeder reactor development included research into advanced reprocessing technology. President Carter terminated federal support for reprocessing in an attempt to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons material. The Department of Energy now proposes a new generation of “proliferation-resistant” reactor and reprocessing technology.
James Conca, Forbes: Australia is thinking about building a deep geologic nuclear repository that would take nuclear waste from the whole world, or at least from those countries that have no viable option for their small amount of nuclear waste. If some country, like Australia, with many viable sites for a single deep geologic repository, decided to accept nuclear waste from these small-user countries, it would solve a global problem in a very cost-effective way. The storage and subsequent deep geologic disposal of the waste from the small-user nations is not difficult at all scientifically, technically or economically – only politically.
A Koven, J Kim, J Pellazar, L Wu, M Tzolov, S Mulam, E Jelishik and P Ottensmeyer outline a path for Canada to close the CANDU nuclear reactor fuel cycle: Currently, CANDU nuclear reactors in Canada utilize less than 1% of the potential energy in fresh fuel bundles before storing the remainder as nuclear ‘waste’ at on-site nuclear waste management facilities. With the modified PUREX processing system, it is economically possible to close the fuel cycle by extracting and converting the remaining 99% to usable energy. Canada is an excellent example for how scientists, engineers, managers, and regulators need to work together for outstanding results of using nuclear energy. The world must follow this example.
Ken Kok is a nuclear engineer and leading advocate member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers for advanced nuclear power technology with spent fuel recycling.
Nuclear power needs a fuel recycle reactor. This program should be the cornerstone of the U.S. advanced nuclear technology development program. The capability of operating nuclear power plants with recycled fuel is far more important than the capability of operating nuclear plants at higher temperatures. The benefits of increasing thermal efficiency are minuscule when compared to the benefits of increasing nuclear fuel efficiency. .. .. Even after the first cycle, with the burnup that was routinely achieved in EBR-II, this fuel will contain much too high of a concentration of higher isotopes of plutonium and other actinides to be attractive for weapons.