Friday, August 10, 2012

Recycling Nuclear Waste

Recently the DC Court of Appeals vacated the waste confidence rule of the NRC.  It basically said to the NRC, "You don't have any sort of credible plan for spent nuclear fuel and it's time to stop pretending that you do!"  As a result, any no new licenses for nuclear power plants are going to be issued until the NRC gets its act together.

This is an opportunity to talk about closing the loop in the nuclear fuel cycle.  The advantages of recycling spent nuclear fuel include:
  • Reduction of the volume of space needed in a geologic repository by 75%.
  • The long-term toxicity of the waste to be deposited is reduced from several hundred thousand years to 10,000 years
  • Vitrified waste only loses 1% of its mass by water leaching in 100,000 years.  That's a period 10 times as long as it takes for the waste to become no more radioactive than the ore from which natural uranium is extracted initially.
  • 96% of the original fuel is reused.  That means that much less needs to be mined and processed to begin with.
  • The recycled fuel requires less enrichment effort that natural uranium.  Natural uranium is 0.72% U235 and recycled is typically 0.9%.  Fuel is typically enriched to a range of 3.0-5.0% U235.
  • Vitrified waste from recycling doesn't contain any material that is useful for weapons.  It can be stored on an interim basis without any proliferation risk.
  • Recycling burns the plutonium that is contained in spent fuel, thereby removing it from table as a proliferation concern.
  • A recycling capacity makes it inviting for international users to buy the service instead of developing their own.  This enhances non-proliferation.
One reason that recycling hasn't been implemented in the U.S. is the perception that it costs more to recycle fuel than it does to mine and enrich fresh natural uranium.  On a napkin sketch, this is true.  However, when one considers the costs of spent fuel uncertainty and the eventual repository costs, recycling begins to look much better.  Currently rate-payers are paying into a fund to dispose of wastes and there has been no return on that money.

A recycling program would provide 18,000 direct jobs during construction with 5,000 operational jobs thereafter.  It could be expected to be in place for 50 or more years.  Some 30,000 additional jobs would be generated in the surrounding community and host state.

The technology has been proven in other countries and private capital is available to build the infrastructure, should the decision be made to allow it.  The existence of a recycling industry would stimulate the development of more effective and efficient technologies.

Here sits an economic development option that could be budget neutral.  All private industry needs is reasonable regulation and permission to proceed.

Information taken from an AREVA white paper entitled "Recycling. Essential Element in a Sustainable Nuclear Fuel Cycle"


plumbing said...

Materials and Uranium wastes are so very delicate and hazardous that they require specialized ways to be recycled. It is a serious issue because it is a threat to health and environment.

Kendall Miller said...

Of course, they are hazardous. But plants exist that have already been doing just that delicate and hazardous work for years. This is established industrial technology, not experimental. Only one or two such plants would be needed to handle the needs of the U.S. The existing threat that we are living with now would be significantly reduced. How can that be a problem?

Kendall Miller said...

And furthermore, it looks like you are spoofing your identity. What's up with that?

Unknown said...

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