Reprocessing of nuclear waste is neither an affordable remedy for future waste disposal in the United States nor will it eliminate the need for a deep geologic repository to replace Yucca Mountain, according to a recent study released by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER), a nonprofit and nonpartisan research group.
Even as some are urging the Obama Administration’s blue-ribbon panel on nuclear waste to consider the options of reprocessing and breeder reactors, the IEER study looks at the global experience – including those of France and Britain – and finds that both approaches are widely misunderstood in the United States.
France has not solved its nuclear waste problems and now needs a repository in face of strong public opposition to the development of such a facility.
Contrary to what is widely believed, France uses less than one per cent of the underlying uranium resource despite reprocessing.
It cannot increase this above one per cent without breeder reactors, which face immense cost, safety, and proliferation hurdles. It spends about a billion dollars a year extra in fuel costs because of reprocessing. The British reality is even worse.
The IEER study shows that, despite enormous expenditures worldwide, breeder reactors are not commercial.
The latest demonstration reactors in France (Superphénix) and Japan (Monju) have been failures. As well, breeder reactors and reprocessing will increase proliferation risks and costs.
The study notes that a deep geologic repository would be required to replace Yucca Mountain in any case.
The IEER provides policy-makers, journalists, and the public with understandable and accurate scientific and technical information on energy and environmental issues. IEER’s aim is to bring scientific excellence to public policy issues in order to promote the democratization of science and a safer, healthier environment.
On March 24, 2010, IEER held a news conference to release documents acquired under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) showing that the outgoing Bush Administration inked 11th-hour agreements with more than a dozen utilities involving 21 proposed nuclear reactors.
As IEER notes, between the output of existing commercial nuclear reactors and the 21 proposed nuclear reactors covered by the agreements quietly signed by the outgoing Bush Administration, the U.S. already has agreed to store enough spent (used) reactor fuel to fill the equivalent of not one, but two, Yucca Mountain high-level radioactive waste repositories.
For more information on the March 24, 2010 news event, click here.