Nuclear Waste Management
Most used fuel from nuclear power plants is stored in steel-lined concrete pools filled with water, or in airtight steel or concrete-and-steel containers as pictured above.
Safely Managing Used Fuel
By law, the U.S. Department of Energy is responsible for developing a disposal facility for the long-term management of used uranium fuel from America's nuclear power plants. The federal government, however, does not have a viable program for the management of used nuclear fuel from commercial nuclear energy facilities and high-level radioactive waste from the government’s defense and research activities.
Integrated Used Fuel Management
Until the federal government puts in place a program to dispose of these materials, nearly all commercial used fuel is stored safely and securely at the reactor sites in steel-lined concrete pools filled with water, or in airtight steel or concrete-and-steel containers. This temporary storage is but one component of an integrated used fuel management system. Other facets include recycling, transportation and final geologic disposal.
The federal government has defaulted on its legal obligation to take used nuclear fuel from commercial reactors beginning in 1998. The nuclear energy industry is committed to working with Congress, the administration and state leaders on proposed legislation to create a sustainable, integrated program.
Used Nuclear Fuel Storage
Used nuclear fuel consists of small uranium pellets stacked inside alloy fuel rods. All the used nuclear fuel produced by the nuclear energy industry in nearly 50 years—if stacked end to end—would cover an area the size of a football field to a depth of less than 10 yards.
NEI supports the development of a consolidated facility for temporary storage of used nuclear fuel in a willing host community and state, while substantial progress is made toward developing the Yucca Mountain site or another geologic repository.
The Nuclear Waste Policy Act gives the U.S. Department of Energy the responsibility to transport used nuclear fuel from nuclear energy facility sites to temporary storage facilities and to a repository. Transport will be conducted by rail and road, using massive, sealed containers that meet strict safety and security requirements.
Whether nuclear fuel is used only once or recycled for subsequent use, disposal of high-level radioactive byproducts in a permanent geologic repository is necessary. Underground disposal in a specially designed facility is an essential element of a sustainable, integrated used nuclear fuel management program. The industry supports the completion of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's review of the DOE license application to build a repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
Recycling Used Nuclear Fuel
The industry supports research, development and demonstration of improved or advanced fuel cycle technologies such as recycling, thereby potentially reducing the volume, heat and toxicity of byproducts placed in the repository. A geologic repository will be required for all fuel cycles.
Low-Level Radioactive Waste
Low-level waste is a byproduct of the beneficial uses of a wide range of radioactive materials. These include electricity generation, medical diagnosis and treatment, and various other medical processes.