During a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing yesterday, the discussion of the future of the Yucca Mountain project raised the possibility of recycling nuclear fuel as part of the nation’s used fuel management strategy.
Recycling nuclear fuel would enable us to reduce the volume of material for disposal by a factor of at least four and reduce toxicity by a factor 10 (based on experience in France). It also turns the most difficult waste into a vitrified form (glass logs) that is more stable, durable and manageable for long-term storage in a repository. If recycled, the 60,000 metric tons of used fuel stored at nuclear plant sites could provide enough fuel to power America’s 104 nuclear reactors for seven to eight years.
If the U.S. turns to recycling we could defer having to find and build a second or third repository, perhaps forever. Recycling would postpone or eliminate the need for additional repository capacity. There’s no doubt that locating a geological repositories requires some level of acceptance by the local community. But this task would be made easier if you can limit its size and avoid having to build multiple repositories.
AREVA has recycled used fuel in France for customers in Europe and Japan for several decades and continues to do so today. This technology is safe, mature and cost effective. In the United States, we recycle glass, aluminum and paper; why not recycle nuclear fuel? In addition to the reduction in the amount of waste we must dispose, we would also conserve the amount of new uranium that we must use. Facing the expansion of nuclear energy worldwide, this is important to consider in terms of U.S. energy security as well.
In the end, we believe that recycling is just common sense.