This is an opportune time to re-evaluate America’s policy on managing commercial reactor fuel.
Given the clear need for expansion of nuclear energy (more than 70% of U.S. carbon-free electricity production comes from nuclear power) , the Obama administration and Congress should revisit the decision to use a once-through fuel cycle and instead pursue uranium recycling as part of an integrated approach includes at-reactor storage, private sector or government-owned centralized storage, and continued development and licensing of a federal repository.
Given the legal obligation that the government has to fulfill its responsibility under that law, the industry believes the NRC’s review of the Yucca Mountain license application should continue. In parallel, the administration should convene an independent panel of the best scientific, environmental, engineering and public policy leaders to fully investigate the critical issues and make a recommendation to President Obama and Congress on how best to proceed with managing used nuclear fuel.
Centralized storage is a strategic bridge in the uranium fuel management process that would also provide storage for reactor fuel from power plants that have been shut down. The federal government should collaborate with the private sector and other countries on a research and development and demonstration program to recycle reactor fuel in a way that is safe, environmentally acceptable, enhances the worldwide nonproliferation regime and makes sense economically. Other countries are looking at recycling as part of their used nuclear fuel management program and the United States should be constructively engaged in this technology development.
Through recycling, we can reclaim and reuse a significant amount of energy that remains in uranium fuel and reduce the heat, volume and toxicity of radioactive byproducts that ultimately will be placed in a repository.