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Where Used Nuclear Fuel Is Wanted

The WIPP facility
Sometimes, it just takes a little push. For example, The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future (whew! – let’s call it the BRC) made a number of recommendations on how to proceed with used nuclear fuel without Yucca Mountain.

One recommendation still promoted the use of one or more permanent repositories just like Yucca Mountain, but the interest here – and the push - is on a second, related suggestion: interim storage sites. However many of these there would be, they would be many fewer than the nuclear facilities now holding used nuclear fuel – if the idea is to decrease the number of sites with used fuel, then this is an especially plausible idea.

Even better, the BRC said that communities could suggest themselves as hosts for these interim sites. The federal government could then negotiate terms with the communities, assuming there are viable locations to put the sites.

This idea arose from a visit the BRC members took to the Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, N.M., where it held a hearing on how the site was determined and how the townspeople like having it there. WIPP stores defense-related transuranic waste, not domestic used fuel, but otherwise it is a model for a community-based storage site. And the community loves WIPP.
Offering the community’s insight, Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway told the BRC the Department of Energy’s openness has been essential to the project’s success.
"They have kept their promises. I can honestly say they have kept us informed from the very beginning,” he said.
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez told the BRC the keys to WIPP’s success have been the area’s geological composition, sound science, transparency and citizen engagement.
“WIPP has been vital to the nation and is responsible for major, significant economic impact to the community,” she said. “WIPP’s local support has never wavered.”
And that’s the push – WIPP has been a boon to its community and the BRC recommendation put its success up for public review.
Local leaders here are polishing their pitch to attract a type of business most places would shun: storing the nation’s high-level nuclear waste.
They’ve already teamed up with an international nuclear company to get an edge on any competition. They’ve bought land and built a Web page. They’ve even met with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
It’s still New Mexico – in this case Eunice, which is near Carlsbad – but they’re really pushing to be considered. Here’s a little information about Eunice:
Today Eunice boasts an estimated population of 2,606 (in July of 2005) and growing currently with 9 choices of places to dine-in or carryout, 2 drinking establishments with one requiring membership, health clinic, an inn and motel, lumber yard, seasonal tax office, 1 convenience store, towing and auto service, a bank, a grocery store, a discount store, insurance shops, organizations and many more businesses are popping up. Things are growing and the future in Eunice is going to be something to behold.
Now, in Eunice’s case, or more properly, Lea and Eddy counties, there is a possibility that they can turn that part of the state into a used fuel megamall – their term, not mine:
The growing nuclear complex includes the $3 billion enrichment plant [run by URENCO], the federal nuclear-waste repository at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project in Carlsbad and the new Waste Control Specialists’ low-level radioactive waste site just over the New Mexico-Texas border, across the highway from the enrichment plant. In addition, federal regulators have just approved a depleted uranium de-conversion plant [run by International Isotopes in nearby Hobbs, N.M.].
Some of Eunice seems to poke into Texas, so this looks like a two-state effort.
Eunice may be kind of an obvious place to host a site, given what its neighbors are up to. But others are at least poking their noses under the tent.
Although there are no formal proposals to create a nuclear waste facility in South Carolina, it is an issue that must be evaluated, said Rick McLeod, the executive director of the SRS Community Reuse Organization, an economic development consortium unrelated to Areva’s presentation [about interim fuel sites] in Columbia.
“Right now, it’s just a topic that’s out there,” he said. “Everyone’s discussing what it could or could not be, and not just here. A lot of other communities are looking at it, too.”
So what’s AREVA up to?
The Thursday presentation is one of several signs that behind-the-scenes interest in the Palmetto state remains high as Congress and the U.S. Energy Department try to forge new solutions for spent fuel now stored in pools and casks at the nation’s 104 commercial power reactors.
And although McLeod is being cautious, his group has put serious money into exploring the issue:
McLeod’s group launched a $200,000 study in June to explore Savannah River Site’s potential role in spent nuclear fuel solutions and the role of surrounding counties.
I think there will be a lot more to say about this over the next year. Congress hasn’t really moved on the BRC recommendations, but they are likely to do so – and there are communities waiting for it to happen.


Michael DeVore said…
how about recycling it so there is less waste? Yes I know why the US doesn't recycle but with the black market for uranium or plutonium anyways, why not?
Anonymous said…
Partitioning used fuel can reduce volume, but you still have the same heat load for the material that eventually must be disposed of, and that is the limiting factor in many storage/isolation proposals. You can reduce heat load if you do the actinide recycle, but that requires an additional step. If we want to eventually go with the waste isolation idea, actinide recycle should be done.
Anonymous said…
Recycling creates MORE waste, not less, unless it's done in conjunction with a huge fleet of deep-burn fast reactors and/or some sort of actinide partioning like accelerators.

MOX fuel can only be irradiated in LWRs two or three times at the most before the plutonium isotopics are unsuitable for further LWR fuel use. Ask the French.
Anonymous said…
@anonymous December 14,1:23 PM,

And how do the French solve that, can you tell me? As far as I know, their cycle is pretty closed.

Anonymous said…
How do the French solve that? Well, they don't.

Large amounts of separated plutonium have yet to be used in MOX. Irradiated MOX fuel, after the plutonium in it is no longer isotopically suitable for re-use in LWRs, will have to be disposed of in a repository or partitioned and transmuted. They don't have fast reactors to burn it, nor are they planning to build them.

Just calling reprocessing "recycling" doesn't make it as simple as re-using aluminum cans.
Anonymous said…
Good, I'm off to read some more. Can you give me some sites to go to? What do the French do with their waste?


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