Reprocessing – An Answer for the Next Generation
Nuclear power plants produce about 20% of the electricity used in the United States. There are 72 plant sites that currently have spent fuel stored at the location of the reactor.
The spent fuel rods from US reactors retain about 98% of their energy at the end of their life cycle. That is the “waste” that is meant to be stored at Yucca Mt. Many believe that it is not “waste” but a “fuel source” that can be reprocessed and used to generate power.
A key, nearly unique, characteristic of nuclear energy is that used fuel may be reprocessed to recover fissile and fertile materials in order to provide fresh fuel for existing and future nuclear power plants. Several European countries, Russia and Japan have had a policy to reprocess used nuclear fuel.
Over the last 50 years the principal reason for reprocessing used fuel has been to recover unused uranium and plutonium in the used fuel elements, and thereby close the fuel cycle, gaining some 25% more energy from the original uranium in the process and thus contributing to energy security. A secondary reason is to reduce the volume of material to be disposed of as high-level waste to about one- fifth. While there still is waste after the spent fuel is recycled, the level of radioactivity is much smaller and after about 100 years falls much more rapidly than in the spent fuel that is currently stock piled at 75 reactors in the US.
Reprocessing of spent fuel is a long-term option that should be considered as part of our nation’s strategy to deal with the current stock piles of spent fuel.
At this time, reprocessing in the US is not economically viable. But with the increase in the number of nuclear plants that are expected worldwide over the next few decades, the cost of uranium will increase and supply will decrease. Experts say that within 50 years, reprocessing will become a good option for the US to pursue. As uranium prices increase, the growing stock pile of spent fuel that is essentially free, will become a viable commodity.
This is why we support our state urging the DOE and the Blue Ribbon Commission on Nuclear Waste to include reprocessing as an option for disposal of spent fuel. We also want our state leaders to request that Yucca become an interim storage facility for the current stock pile of spent fuel, as long as we also gain a research center for the study of reprocessing and renewable energy technologies. Yucca should also be studied as a site for a reprocessing facility.
Reprocessing is a long-term solution for our nation’s energy needs. Our leaders need to look beyond the next election and offer solutions for the next generation.
Please see the following links for more information on reprocessing:
- Advanced Fuel-Cycle Technologies Hold Promise for Used Fuel Management Program