This CleanSkies.com video dated July 21, 2009 provides some commentary and prescriptions on used fuel recycling by two noted members of the nuclear non-proliferation community. Though I cannot agree with Frank Von Hipple and Henry Sokolsi with regard to their serious reservations about the fundamental value of atomic fission energy, I have trouble disagreeing with their general recommendations regarding the lack of urgency for doing something with used fuel. The material that has been and will be removed from reactors is safe right where it is without any immediate need to recycle it or store it in a geological repository.
Both of these gentlemen are dead wrong about the current use of atomic energy and its future prospects for growth. Fission is exceedingly valuable in a world dominated by a perception that fossil fuels are scarce and getting more scarce and by concerns that the waste products from fossil fuel combustion that are being dumped in our common atmosphere are causing significant harm to human health and to the environment. Atomic fission provides an alternative that may actually be driving down the price of fossil fuels right now, as major producers recognized that the price behavior prevalent in the early part of this century encouraged a new look at nuclear power as an economical solution to perceived energy scarcity.
One part of the prescription from people allied with Von Hipple and Sokolsi that should be resisted is the suggestion at the end of the video that there is a need to force utilities to spend more than they are spending today to safely store used fuel on site. The material is well protected, carefully inventoried, and has not caused any harm to the public or plant workers. Spending more to achieve the same results would be a terrible waste of money.
There are plenty of service providers – some of whom claim to be pro-nuclear and part of the industry – that are breathlessly hoping for a piece of any action that might come from increased requirements on used fuel storage. I would not be surprised to find that they are quietly whispering in the ears of politicians, appointed scientists and regulators about the need to tighten the rules and force new investments. After all, one man’s cost is another man’s revenue.
There is no reason, however, to allow those who see dollar signs to have the debate to themselves. My plan is to speak as loudly as I can about the adequacy of current storage solutions for existing and future reactors.