Power Magazine has published an important, information rich article titled U. S. Spent Nuclear Fuel Policy: Road to Nowhere that provides the best available summary of the numerous dead-end paths that have been attempted in a supposed effort to provide a permanent storage location for used nuclear fuel. The article’s authors, James M. Hylko and Dr. Robert Peltier know the subject and have done their research.
The reason that I put the qualifier of “supposed” on the word “effort” is that there is a great deal of evidence point to the fact that the nuclear fission opposition has worked diligently for more than 30 years to turn waste handling into a means of constipating the industry, both halting development and eventually forcing it to shut down. Since the government has been involved in all steps of the process, and since politically powerful people are members of the nuclear fission opposition, I believe that some government participants have done all they can to prevent success.
Of course, the standard bureaucratic/contractor project mentality has also played a role. Both government bureaucrats and large project contractors have a fundamental motive for stretching project timelines out as far as possible. It is a job justification, revenue generating endeavor to keep the dollars flowing through each budget cycle. That effort is often made easier when there is an easily identifiable source of project funding that does not look too much like a tax.
I highly recommend that you read the 6 page article in full to get a sense for all of the projects that have been attempted during the Atomic Age. However, I think that the article’s conclusion is important enough to repeat here, just in case you do not have the time to read all of the history.
History can be a stern teacher, and we should learn this important lesson. There is no long-term, politically expedient road to a Yucca Mountain – type facility anywhere in the U.S. We expect the blue ribbon commission to spend the next two years or more studying the problem only to come to the same conclusion.
As a nation, we would be better served if Congress would amend the NWPA (Nuclear Waste Policy Act) and NWPAA (Nuclear Waste Policy Act Amendment) to delete the statutory responsibility of the DOE (Department of Energy) to store SNF (spent nuclear fuel), refund the NWF (Nuclear Waste Fund) contributions, and quickly settle the 60-plus lawsuits pending to cover all current and future nuclear plant SNF storage costs. The elegant solution is nuclear fuel reprocessing, perhaps primed by reprogramming NWF money into building such a facility.
Other than the fact that I prefer the term “used nuclear fuel” to clearly identify that the majority of energy content available in the material is not “spent” yet, I agree with that prescription.