Skip to main content

The What Where When of Used Nuclear Fuel

fig43 Ever since Yucca Mountain succumbed – well, almost succumbed – to the Obama administration’s uncertainties about it, the question of  used nuclear fuel has been a bit of a question mark.

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?

Comments

Paul Studier said…
There already is an NRC licensed facility for 40,000 tons of spent fuel for 40 years. This would provide an alternative to on site storage or on sites where the power plant is decommissioned. See http://web.archive.org/web/20071227225023/http:/www.privatefuelstorage.com/ . Unfortunately, congress blocked it, so the only thing that actually exists is the license.
Joffan said…
Interesting Paul. NRC's letter issuing the licence is here. Do you have a reference to the Congressional action to block it?

I'm amused by the use of an apparently naked female silhouette for scale on the cask picture (perhaps that was the idea). At her distance from such a cask, what would the levels of radiation be if the cask was loaded with typical 10-year-old spent fuel?
Paul Studier said…
Go to the link I posted and click on "News" and you will find:

Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians and Private Fuel Storage Seek Reversal of Interior Department Rulings

On July 17, 2007, PFS and the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians filed a complaint, in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, against officials of the U.S. Department of Interior for their decisions of September 2006 disapproving the PFS-Goshute lease and the use of public lands for an Intermodal Transfer Facility.

The Claim asks the Court to vacate the DOI decisions and require DOI to reconsider both issues on a strict timetable, this time adhering to the Department's own regulations as well as other federal laws and policies.


Congress could allow it just by passing a bill. Previously, Private Fuel Storage tried to build 30 miles of railroad, but congress declared the area a wilderness to prevent this. Sorry, don't have a reference for that handy. In any case, it took 8 years to license the site, and any new site would have to start an application from scratch.

Popular posts from this blog

Why Ex-Im Bank Board Nominations Will Turn the Page on a Dysfunctional Chapter in Washington

In our present era of political discord, could Washington agree to support an agency that creates thousands of American jobs by enabling U.S. companies of all sizes to compete in foreign markets? What if that agency generated nearly billions of dollars more in revenue than the cost of its operations and returned that money – $7 billion over the past two decades – to U.S. taxpayers? In fact, that agency, the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank), was reauthorized by a large majority of Congress in 2015. To be sure, the matter was not without controversy. A bipartisan House coalition resorted to a rarely-used parliamentary maneuver in order to force a vote. But when Congress voted, Ex-Im Bank won a supermajority in the House and a large majority in the Senate. For almost two years, however, Ex-Im Bank has been unable to function fully because a single Senate committee chairman prevented the confirmation of nominees to its Board of Directors. Without a quorum

New Home for Our Blog: Join Us on NEI.org

On February 27, NEI launched the new NEI.org . We overhauled the public site, framing all of our content around the National Nuclear Energy Strategy. So, what's changed? Our top priority was to put you, the user, first. Now you can quickly get the information you need.  You'll enjoy visiting the site with its intuitive navigation, social media integration and compelling and shareable visuals.  We've added a feature called Nuclear Now, which showcases the latest industry news and resources like fact sheets and reports. It's one of the first sections you'll see on our home page and it can be accessed anywhere throughout the site by clicking on the atom symbol in the top right corner of the page. Most importantly for you, our loyal NEI Nuclear Notes readers, is that we've migrated the blog to the new site. Moving forward,  all blog posts will be published in the News section , along with our press releases, Nuclear Energy Overview stories and more. Just l

Hurricane Harvey Couldn't Stop the South Texas Project

The South Texas Project As Hurricane Harvey battered southeast Texas over the past week, the devastation and loss of life in its wake have kept our attention and been a cause of grief. Through the tragedy, many stories of heroics and sacrifice have emerged. Among those who have sacrificed are nearly 250 workers who have been hunkered down at the South Texas Project (STP) nuclear plant in Matagorda County, Texas. STP’s priorities were always the safety of their employees and the communities they serve. We are proud that STP continued to operate at full power throughout the storm. It is a true testament to the reliability and resiliency of not only the operators but of our industry. The world is starting to notice what a feat it is to have maintained operations through the catastrophic event. Forbes’ Rod Adams did an excellent job describing the contribution of these men and women : “STP storm crew members deserve to be proud of the work that they are doing. Their famil