Recycling Option Debated at Latest Blue Ribbon Commission Hearing

The Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) on America’s Nuclear Future held its latest public meeting in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 20 to solicit comments on its draft recommendations for managing the nation’s nuclear waste. Over the past month, the BRC has held meetings at locations around the country to receive feedback on its draft report that it will give to the administration next year.

In a panel focused on advanced technology, the discussion focused on whether recycling nuclear fuel could provide a feasible option for the United States. David Jones, Senior V.P. at AREVA Inc. and Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council, pointed out that recycling nuclear fuel is a proven, economical and safe option for the United States to consider as a possibility for managing some of the nation’s used fuel.

“A sustainable fuel cycle is a critical building block for new nuclear energy in the United States, requiring an all-of-the-above approach to back-end implementation, not an either/or strategy. We favor more options not less,” Jones said. “Both the Council and AREVA strongly support a Federally-chartered corporation with broad authority for the management of used-fuel.”

He added that such a federal corporation, or FedCorp, would be well placed to develop interim storage facilities, but these are only part of the solution. “At AREVA, we support an evolutionary ‘pilot project’ approach that deploys current state-of-the-art recycling technology with the ability to implement advanced technologies as they are developed,” Jones said.

In a statement to the panel, Bob Gee, President of Gee Strategies Group, supported the notion that the U.S. should not wait for an ideal solution before moving ahead with those available now. He noted:

The Commission should not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. I join in the recommendation being made by others that the Commission endorse a phased approach to closing the fuel cycle, which contemplates a pilot recycling facility that utilizes best available technology. With this approach, RD & D can continue to build incrementally on today’s technology, yield improved plant operating performance, and provide a platform for further progress on an advanced fuel cycle designed to meet U.S. specifications.

Other speakers at the meeting agreed that recycling should at least be available as an option for managing used fuel in the United States.

“The National Association of Neighborhoods (NAN) agrees with the BRC recommendation that we need to move forward with consolidated interim storage capacity. However, we strongly disagree with BRC that there is a need to wait for ‘new technologies to materialize’ before making a decision about reprocessing spent nuclear fuel,” said Ricardo Byrd, Executive Director of NAN.

Mervin Tano, President of the International Institute for Indigenous Resource Management, also noted his organization’s support for recycling of used nuclear fuel. “However, how the Institute comes to that view may be quite different from the logic of other proponents of reprocessing,” Tano said.

“We view the once-through paradigm as immoral and intergenerationally unjust. We think the once-through paradigm is unjust to past generations,” because it places most of the burden on communities that host uranium mines and “waste facilities.” He added that recycling is the more sustainable solution because it reduces by 25% the amount of mining required.

Other proponents focused on the positive effect that a recycling facility would have on the economy of its host community.

“A recycling facility would represent a significant investment (billions of dollars) in our future energy infrastructure, providing over 15,000 construction jobs, over 5,000 permanent jobs and thousands more indirect jobs in the surrounding communities,” said Brent Wilkes, Executive Director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), in a written statement submitted to the Blue Ribbon Commission.