Here's one story from this yesterday's edition of Energy Daily (subscription required) that caught our attention:
Rumors are afoot that Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Pete Domenici and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid are discussing joint legislation that would call for keeping spent nuclear fuel at nuclear reactor sites while the government develops a program for reprocessing spent fuel, sources say...There has been no official comment from either senator or a specific piece of legislation introduced, so the details of this proposal haven’t been forthcoming.
[D]omenici and Reid are discussing legislation directing the Energy Department to assume responsibility for spent fuel at dozens of reactor sites across the country, rather than delivering it to a planned repository in Yucca Mountain, Nevada, as has been planned for decades.
As a longer-term solution, the proposal would direct DOE to begin developing a program to reprocess the spent fuel, among other possible provisions, sources say. Reprocessing would extract plutonium and uranium for possible recycling into fresh reactor fuel, but would still leave some high-level nuclear waste for disposal...
A strong supporter of nuclear power, Domenici may see the combination of at-reactor storage and reprocessing as the best solution to the spent fuel problem and thus a way to encourage new plant construction.
However, we can say this: The nuclear industry would oppose any scenario that fails to address the government's obligation under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to move used nuclear fuel from plant sites for centralized storage and, ultimately, disposal. Failure to do this fails to meet the government's obligation -- something the federal courts have upheld in a series of rulings beginning in the 1990s and for which electricity consumers have paid $25 billion over the last two decades.
Further, DOE taking title to the fuel, but keeping it scattered at 67 sites does nothing to advance the policy of securing a long-term disposal facility for used nuclear fuel, nor does it address what we'll do with high-level radioactive waste from U.S. defense programs. Our figures estimate that this proposal will create an unnecessary $1 billion per year in costs that will have to be borne by U.S. taxpayers.
The nuclear industry welcomes new ideas on how the federal government can fulfill its obligation to manage used nuclear fuel sooner rather than later. At the same time, as a matter of national policy, Yucca Mountain should remain the ultimate disposal site once the facility is licensed by the NRC—whether or not we develop reprocessing technology.
The question before us shouldn't be Yucca Mountain or some other alternative. Instead, we would welcome any proposals that would speed us to an ultimate solution that would include features like long-term monitoring and fuel retrievability and additional program elements.
For a number of decades, America's best scientists have held that geologic disposal is the safest way to deal with used fuel over the long term -- something that Congress affirmed in 2002. In addition, industry has supported interim storage at alternative locations as long as it could be demonstrated that this would facilitate the federal government meeting its obligations under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, while continuing to keep to its goal of opening a geological repository at Yucca Mountain.
As for reprocessing, we think it has the potential to cut costs and make disposal more efficient over the long haul. Unfortunately, the advanced technologies needed to achieve that simply don't exist right now, and in any case, it wouldn't substantially reduce the volume of waste sent to Yucca Mountain. And since the heat content of used fuel limits the size of the permanent disposal facility, the current state of reprocessing technology would have no impact on the physical size of the repository.
While the industry supports research and development into advanced reprocessing, and promise to make it more efficient by seperating out the short-lived high-heat elements and shortening the lives of long-lived waste or transmutation or fission in a fast spectrum reactor, we estimate that it may take 15 years or more for R&D, licensing and construction of such a facility.
Technorati tags: Nuclear Energy, Environment, Energy, Health Physics, Health, Yucca Mountain