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Deutch and Moniz Propose New Course for Used Fuel Management

Today's must-read comes from yesterday's edition of The Washington Post, where former Director of the CIA John Deutch and former Undersecretary of Energy Ernest Moniz (both served during the Clinton administration), have proposed a way forward for used nuclear fuel management:
What should be done? First, and most important, the government should take title to the spent fuel stored at commercial reactor sites across the country and consolidate it at one or more federal sites until a proper disposal pathway is created. This can be done safely and securely for an extended period and, indeed, such extended storage should be incorporated into a proper disposal strategy. It would take the pressure for a hasty disposal solution off both government and industry.

Second, the president should continue his broad diplomatic effort for supplier countries such as France, Britain, Russia and the United States to supply fresh fuel (and remove spent fuel) for countries with small nuclear power programs if they agree to forgo dangerous and costly fuel cycle facilities for a significant period.

Third, Yucca Mountain should not be abandoned. Rather, the Energy Department should take a fresh look at assessing its suitability under various conditions and adjust the project schedule accordingly.

Fourth, the administration is right to consider reestablishing a strong program to explore ideas for reducing the challenges of long-term waste management while not increasing proliferation risks. But much research is needed, and it will take decades before the viability of such approaches can be evaluated, and still more time before they can be deployed. Premature technology choices and arbitrary schedules for demonstration plants will repeat past mistakes.

Fifth, Congress and the administration should not push for reprocessing of the current spent-fuel inventory. Marginal benefits for disposal are more than offset by cost; by risks to the environment, health and safety; and by the proliferation threat. This last problem, by itself, would undoubtedly provoke considerable opposition in Congress and could undermine the reconsideration of nuclear power that is now gaining momentum.

A successful waste-disposal program has to survive many administrations; a program based on reprocessing will not.
NEI's last public statement concerning used fuel management came on Jan. 17, when NEI President and CEO Skip Bowman delivered a letter to U.S. Senator James Inhofe expressing the industry's opposition to S. 2099, "The Spent Nuclear Fuel On-Site Storage Security Act of 2005."

That same day at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Deutch and Moniz serve on the faculty, Bowman delivered a lecture on the future of the industry, and addressed, specifically, what lies ahead in terms of the nuclear fuel cycle:
If the renaissance of nuclear energy now in progress around the world is to be sustainable, it must involve a lot more than simply building hundreds of new nuclear plants.

New nuclear plant construction on the scale required by the world over the next 50 years implies a significant increase in the amount of spent fuel we envisioned a few years ago and—unless we develop next-generation reprocessing technology that can pass the economical, proliferation and environmental litmus tests—an unacceptably large number of storage and disposal facilities for nuclear waste.

So we must make plans to evaluate closing the nuclear fuel cycle in the long-term, and reduce both the volume and toxicity of the waste by-product.

Finally, although we must plan for the long-term, we must continue to act in the short-term.

The long-term technology roadmap is essential, but we cannot allow ourselves to be paralyzed in the short-term.

We cannot, for example, allow the long-term potential of advanced nuclear fuel processing and recycling technologies to distract us from the necessary short-term imperative: Developing centralized storage and disposal facilities for used nuclear fuel.

No matter how much we might believe in eventually closing the nuclear fuel cycle, no matter how great the long-term promise of used fuel reprocessing and actinide recycle and transmutation of fission products and fast reactors, this technology development is at least 35 to 50 years and tens of billions of dollars from fruition.

And even if we develop these technologies successfully, we will still need permanent disposal facilities.

So we must continue to develop the permanent repository planned for Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

We must have a credible program to develop centralized storage and disposal facilities in the near-term if we expect to retain federal, state and local support for building new nuclear power plants and renewing the licenses of our existing plants to operate for an additional 20 years.
For our posts from last week concerning the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, click here and here.

UPDATE: An excerpt from this morning's edition of The Energy Daily (subscription required):
The Bush Administration's so-called "fix Yucca" legislation will likely include plans to use at least one federal site for centralized storage of spent fuel while the Yucca Mountain repository is being developed, and a demonstration project to bury small amounts of nuclear waste in the underground Nevada repository...


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