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U.S. Spent Nuclear Fuel Policy: Road to Nowhere [Part IV: Picking Up the Pieces]

By Robert Peltier -- July 12, 2010

Part I of this series reviewed the historical context of the U.S. nuclear waste storage policy. Part II and Part III historically reviewed the ill-fated Salt Vault and Yucca Mountain projects, respectively.  This post reviews the legal and political fallout from the Yucca Mountain failure, and Part V tomorrow will explore failed attempts to reprocess nuclear fuel in the U.S. and examine the global state-of-the-art reprocessing plants now operating or under construction.

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1. View of the above-ground support structures and north and south portals at the now-defunct Yucca Mountain repository. Source: Department of Energy/Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (DOE/OCRWM)

The nuclear industry is unique among energy producers in its contractual commitment to cover the full costs for managing its waste. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) of 1982 directed utilities to levy fees on electricity generated by nuclear power and to pay those fees into a federal Nuclear Waste Fund (NWF) that was to be used to develop and operate a national repository.…

U.S. Spent Nuclear Fuel Policy: Road to Nowhere [Part II: Project Salt Vault]

By Robert Peltier -- July 9, 2010

Part I in this series reviewed the history of nuclear waste storage policy in the United States. This post reviews Project Salt Vault, an early attempt to solve the dilemma of storing spent nuclear fuel.   Part III will cover the history of Yucca Mountain.

Project Salt Vault

The primary objective of Project Salt Vault was to demonstrate the safety and feasibility of handling and storing high level nuclear waste (HLW) solids from power reactors in salt formations. The engineering and scientific objectives were to:

· Demonstrate waste-handling equipment and techniques required to handle packages containing HLW solids from the point of production to the disposal location.

· Determine the stability of salt formations under the combined effects of heat and radiation (approximately 4,000,000 curies of radioactive material, yielding up to 109 rads).…

U.S. Spent Nuclear Fuel Policy: Road to Nowhere [Part I: Historical Context]

By Robert Peltier -- July 8, 2010

In addition to building nuclear power plants, a robust nuclear energy infrastructure requires a means to store and recycle spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and other high level nuclear waste (HLW) products.

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 and Amendments of 1987 established a national policy and schedule for developing geologic repositories for the disposal of SNF and HLW. Those deadlines have come and gone; the cancellation of Yucca Mountain was only the latest failed attempt to make this policy a reality.

Nuclear fuel reprocessing traces its roots to work started in 1943 but the development work was suspended in the mid-1970s after several failed projects. The task of finding a new long-term storage location has now been assigned to yet another committee and SNF reprocessing remains in limbo in the U.S.…