Hmmm, maybe that’s misleading. The fuel currently rests in pools or in dry storage casks, mostly at the plants. It’s been doing that for years without issue. A central repository would be ideal, as overseeing one of anything is per se better than overseeing multiple instances of essentially the same thing. (We’re simplifying, of course – radiant matter is handled differently across industries – but Yucca was It for commercial nuclear plants.)
It’s not quite a case of keeping the Brain People of Antares safe when they visit an empty earth a million years from now – they’re tough hombres and can take care of themselves quite nicely, plus they sprinkle their morning cereal with plutonium – but a logistical issue.
And it’ll get taken up again at some point, whether the answer is Yucca Mountain or some other locale. The law more or less requires it – the U.S. has contracts to move the material to a central repository.
But for now, what?
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is proposing to double the period that nuclear power plants can store spent fuel on site to 40 years, as plans to build a permanent federal repository stall.
The rule would formalize a site-by-site exemption the commission has used when nuclear plants, including those owned by Dominion Resources Inc. and Progress Energy Inc., applied to renew waste storage licenses for longer than 20 years.
Which means the NRC is codifying what it’s already doing. It’s not ideal but it is realistic. In terms of plant and public safety, it’s non-controversial. (And there are some non-plant sites that store casks, too.)
If you want to read more about dry cask storage, which is an exceedingly well developed piece of kit, go here.
We did frown at this a bit:
Energy Secretary Steven Chu has called for a panel to recommend a way forward for the U.S. nuclear waste, looking at potential waste sites and reprocessing the fuel to reduce its radioactivity and volume.
We real-l-l-l-y want to see the kick off of this commission. While most such commissions are, at best, efforts to kick-the-can of a difficult issue down the road a piece, this one has real potential to to remove uncertainties and set a course for the future. And we’ll be exceptionally frustrated if it doesn’t get rolling until the Brain People of Antares can be members of it.
But that’s just us and our impatience: we do expect energy issues, including this one, to start popping again when the climate change bill returns to the fore.
A dry cask. Bigger than you’d think, isn’t it?