We have 63,000 tons of spent fuel rods

Hello? Did you know that the United States has 126,000 pounds of highly volatile, radioactive fuel rods awaiting newer, safer homes in their “temporary” storage containers? Nah, I didn’t think so.

Of the 104 nuclear reactors in the U.S., we have accumulated 63,000 tons — “and other radioactive trash” — that has been waiting for a national repository that President Obama has just pulled the funding from.

On May 14, 2009, NTI reported:

In February, Congress provided $288 million for Yucca Mountain, enabling several hundred staffers to continue planning the site. President Barack Obama requested $196.8 million for the project in fiscal 2010, which begins Oct. 1.

The Obama administration has opted to pursue a license for the Yucca Mountain site despite its intention to kill the project. The decision could potentially leave the door open for a future administration to resurrect the effort, according to AP.


So what we know as of May 14th is that Obama will continue funding for a license that will likely never be necessary. Then, on May 15th, we learn that, despite the fact that $10 billion has already been invested in the federal repository, Obama cuts all funding except for “$197 million to “explore alternatives” and pay for other licensing activities” (http://www.globalsecuritynewswire.org/gsn/nw_20090515_9673.php)

This article continues:

The Energy Department has yet to come up with an alternative way to permanently dispose of the 63,000 tons of spent fuel rods and other radioactive trash that have piled up at the nation’s 104 commercial nuclear reactors. However, Secretary Steven Chu supports legislation championed by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, that would authorize the president to create an 11-member, bipartisan commission to examine the viability of three options: underground waste disposal somewhere other than Yucca Mountain; long-term storage at the nuclear power companies’ sites or at regional storage facilities; or the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. The commission would also consider whether the federal government should offer economic incentives to entice states, Indian tribes, and local governments to host a nuclear-waste repository, an interim waste facility, or a reprocessing plant.

Senate Republicans are pushing for a more aggressive approach. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the ranking member on Energy and Natural Resources, wants to authorize the Energy Department to work with private companies to build two commercial nuclear-waste reprocessing facilities. A number of House and Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have demanded a full explanation from Chu as to why the administration is halting work on the repository.

Industry officials are taking a more measured approach to the administration’s rejection of Yucca Mountain. Marvin Fertel, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents nuclear power companies, supports creation of a blue-ribbon panel to sort out the waste dilemma. However, the institute wants the executive branch to go ahead and set up the commission.

“We think it’s going to take a long time to get energy legislation out of Congress,” he said. “So we would encourage Energy Secretary Chu to move forward.”

Fertel says he is convinced that such a commission would inevitably decide that the government should reprocess the nation’s commercial nuclear waste, a process he refers to as “closing the fuel cycle.” The industry strongly backs reprocessing, which removes plutonium and uranium from the spent fuel rods. The separated plutonium can be used to again power nuclear reactors, or, as critics stress, it can be turned into nuclear weapons.

Critics contend that reprocessing would make it easier for terrorists or other criminals to acquire weapon-grade radioactive material. And they point out that reprocessing would still leave nuclear waste that would remain dangerously radioactive for centuries.

Reprocessing also carries a huge price tag, according to Thomas Cochran, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s nuclear program. At a March congressional hearing, Cochran estimated, “The U.S. government could easily spend on the order of $150 billion over 15 years just to get to the starting line of large-scale commercialization” of nuclear-waste reprocessing. Industry officials insist that Cochran’s numbers are inflated but decline to offer their own estimate.

Read the entire article:http://www.globalsecuritynewswire.org/gsn/nw_20090515_9673.php

And now we are going to allow private corporations to import nuclear waste into the U.S? This is insanity.


4 responses to “We have 63,000 tons of spent fuel rods

  1. garrett from massachusetts

    Nuclear energy is so much more efficient than any other power source, its incredible. Make a bomb proof storage tank for it and build some more nuclear plants, our carbon emissions and use of resources (such as lead for solar panels) will be drastically less in this country, its the way to go.

    Same goes for the military… 40,000 gallons of diesel fuel to power a submarine for 6 months…or a piece of uranium the size of a golf ball? Take your pick.

  2. garrett from massachusetts

    “And now we are going to allow private corporations to import nuclear waste into the U.S? This is insanity.”

    I must agree with this though, atleast until we get our act together with storage facilities.

    I have a son who works at 3 mile island, and send me an interesting post card.. it had a small button-sized plastic piece. It says, this piece of uranium has as much energy potential as 172o lbs of coal, 150 gallons of oil, or 160 gallons of gasoline. choice seems clear..

  3. 63,000 tons / 19.7 x the density of water -> 3200 cubic meters

    That would fill a football field 2 feet deep. Not a lot of waste for 100 plants over 50 years… How much coal waste do we have?

  4. The issue, Max, has nothing to do with coal. I am no more a proponent of coal than you are. (Although, as a consultant to the nuclear industry, you would obviously have a greater investment in the coal versus nuclear argument, right?)

    The issue, Max, has everything to do with the volatility of spent nuclear rods in aging storage casks and the potential risk they pose. I would assume that as an employee of Sargent & Lundy (that IS the IP address you posted from), your intention would be to attempt to minimize the perceived risk. But you would be lying if you denied that risk.

    CNN’s report last month entitled, “How vulnerable are U.S. nuclear plants?” states:

    Spent fuel pools are a liability. Right now, we estimate there are 60,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel stored beside U.S. nuclear reactors. If levels of water in a spent fuel pool drop, exposed fuel rods can heat up and temperatures can become high enough to ignite the zirconium cladding that encases the fuel rods.

    Zirconium burns at furiously high temperatures that can be difficult, if not impossible, to extinguish. We need, in this country, to look into accelerating the rate at which spent fuel pools are emptied and spent fuel rods are entombed in cement casks.

    That still leaves us with the problem of long-term disposal of spent fuel in this country. We haven’t yet solved that problem, so spent fuel remains on site at nuclear power plants around the country.

    It’s not only a liability in terms of safety; in the hands of terrorists, spent fuel could pose a serious security threat.

    Nuclear power in this country needs to be safe. As we’re seeing in Fukushima, though, this technology carries with it catastrophic risk that must be minimized, no matter the cost.


    Do me a favor, Max. If you really feel that disputing the obvious on a small-scale blog is worth the PR efforts your clients are paying you for… find another blog.

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