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Integrated Used Fuel Management

Used nuclear fuel consists of small uranium fuel 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.


Industry Principles

Since the Obama administration suspended the NRC’s review of the Yucca Mountain repository program in 2010, the federal government has not had a viable program for the management of used nuclear fuel from commercial nuclear energy facilities and high-level radioactive waste from government defense and research activities. The nuclear energy industry is committed to working with Congress and the administration on proposed legislation to create a sustainable, integrated program.

Under a sustainable, integrated approach for managing the back end of the fuel cycle, used fuel storage at nuclear energy facilities will continue in the near term. One or more consolidated storage facilities, to be built in willing host communities, will help move used fuel from shutdown and operating reactors and reduce the mounting federal liability for delays in the repository program. Eventually, the government will remove it and place the unusable end product in a deep geologic repository. Before a repository is established, research into used fuel recycling can potentially reduce the quantity, heat and toxicity of radioactive waste byproducts needing repository disposal.

The nuclear energy industry supports completion of the Yucca Mountain project  The industry also supports legislation to create a sustainable, integrated program for federal management of high-level radioactive waste and used nuclear fuel. The Nuclear Energy Institute board of directors voted to support the six policy principles:

  • A new management and disposal organization dedicated solely to executing a high-level radioactive waste program and empowered with the authority and resources to succeed.
  • Access to the annual collections and balance of the Nuclear Waste Fund for its intended purpose, without reliance on the annual appropriations process but with appropriate Congressional oversight.
  • Completion of the Yucca Mountain repository license review. Nuclear electric consumers deserve to know whether Yucca Mountain is a safe site for the permanent disposal of high-level radioactive waste, as billions of dollars and years of independent scientific research suggest.
  • A consolidated storage facility for used nuclear fuel and DOE’s high-level radioactive waste in a willing host community and state, and substantial progress toward developing the Yucca Mountain site and/or a second geologic repository. A consolidated storage facility would enable the Department of Energy or a new management entity to move used nuclear fuel from decommissioned and operating plants long before a repository or recycling facilities begin operations. Used fuel from decommissioned commercial reactor sites without an operating reactor should have priority when shipping commercial used fuel to the storage facility.
  • Research, development and demonstration of improved or advanced technologies to close the nuclear fuel cycle, thereby potentially reducing the volume, heat and toxicity of byproducts placed in the repository, which will be required for all fuel cycles. All funds for this program must come from DOE’s budget and not the Nuclear Waste Fund. The independent Nuclear Regulatory Commission should develop a regulatory framework for licensing recycling facilities.
  • Supporting NRC’s promulgation of a temporary storage rule and an eventual legislative determination of waste confidence supported by a sustainable federal program founded on the elements above.

The nuclear energy industry, through NEI, is committed to working with Congress and the administration on proposed legislation that addresses the federal government’s high-level radioactive waste management responsibilities. The industry’s legislative principles address these elements and will guide the industry’s engagement in the legislative process.