An article titled Activists: Wait for new technology NUCLEAR RECYCLING caught my attention this morning. The gist of the story is that press-only meeting was hosted by the Nuclear Energy Information Service, a well established group with a history of anti-nuclear industry activity. The press was gathered to hear the views of two selected speakers –
Shaun Burnie, an independent consultant specializing in nuclear spent rod recycling, and Aileen Mioko Smith, the founder and director of Green Action, which is a Japanese citizen organization that opposes plutonium fuel use in commercial nuclear reactors in Japan.
No dissenting voices were invited to the meeting, but the reporter did his job and talked to a GE spokesman for balancing information.
The two speakers at the meeting provided some purposely scary and inaccurate information about the environmental effects of current recycling plants in France, japan and the UK, claiming that the area around the plants is a “nuclear disaster zone” because the plants released low levels of radiation over a long period of time. The pollution control concept used in the plant designs – the solution to pollution is dilution – is an old, established one used not just by the nuclear industry, but by countless other industries. There is no evidence of significant environmental damage caused by the plants, despite numerous studies that attempt to find that damage.
One comment attributed to the speakers was accurate – there is no rush in recycling used nuclear fuels since the rods can be safely stored at reasonable cost for at least 100 years. The longer the rods are out of the reactor before being recycled, the easier they are to handle. Of course, there are some potentially valuable radioisotopes that will have decayed away during the storage period, but the real value in the used fuel is in recovering the 95% of initial fuel material that is still useful for fuel.
The GE spokesman did a good job of pointing out that the new process that will be used at Morris is not the same as the PUREX process used by existing plants; it will not separate the plutonium from the uranium and will not result in as much added low level waste material.
Bottom line from my point of view is that people are talking and beginning to understand that there is much less of a ‘waste” problem than we have been told for so many years. From now on, the arguments are going to be more about how to best recycle the material, when to do it, and what technology to use. I predict that there will even be growing arguments about where to do it, with numerous locations shifting the meaning of NIMBY from Not In My Backyard to No, In MY Backyard(not yours).
That is going to be a lot more productive in my mind than in talking about how to bury such a valuable resource.