WASHINGTON, D.C.—The nuclear energy industry made several policy recommendations today to the blue ribbon commission counseling the U.S. Department of Energy on future management of used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste. These recommendations included the value of centralized temporary storage of used fuel assemblies, the continuing need for a geologic disposal facility even if used fuel is recycled, and a new management and financing structure for the entity that oversees the program.
“The greatest service that the commission can render to the nation is to develop a used fuel management policy that will endure, define a process for implementing the policy, determine the timelines to be followed to achieve the policy, and delineate the legal and legislative changes needed to make the policy a reality,” said Nuclear Energy Institute President and Chief Executive Officer Marvin Fertel in a presentation to the commission.
Fertel told the body, which is taking input to inform its report to DOE about a year from now, that a stable policy for managing used fuel is essential and must be implemented “in a manner that will enhance public trust.”
“Within the federal government, inconsistency in the approach to managing used nuclear fuel and a lack of policy and management accountability have impeded the ability to build political consensus and pursue needed used fuel management projects,” he said.
Fertel identified five broad principles to shape a stable management policy for nuclear waste, some of which results from U.S. Defense Department applications, and the uranium fuel rods that are used to power the commercial nuclear energy facilities that provide electricity to one of every five U.S. homes and businesses. He said:
the nation must have durable policy for responsible management; it must have a plan for ultimate disposal of the material; an “ideal” technical solution is not required to begin implementation of a new policy direction; non-proliferation goals must be met; and past experience, particularly in the siting of a disposal facility, must be heeded.
Fertel noted that NEI’s utility members and electricity consumers have committed more than $34 billion, including interest, since 1982 to the federal Nuclear Waste Fund established for the government’s used nuclear fuel management program. Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the government was supposed to begin removing used fuel assemblies from nuclear power plant sites in 1998.
DOE’s failure to do so has resulted in more than 60 lawsuits against the government. While only a handful of these suits have been litigated to date in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, damage awards that must be borne by taxpayers already exceed more than $1 billion.
Fertel offered several recommendations to help the blue ribbon commission judge the policies, technologies and systems that are, or might be, available to shape its report to DOE. The recommendations are:
an integrated used fuel management system will include near- and long-term programs that must be operated over decades and cannot succeed if federal policies are continually subject to change; costs of a long-term management program must not be an undue burden to the industry nor to society even as it benefits from nuclear technology; geologic disposal will be necessary in any used fuel management scenario, and the licensing review of the Yucca Mountain, Nev., repository site should be completed; future disposal efforts should build broad-based public support with a step-wise approach to demonstrate program viability and cultivate public confidence; centralized interim storage should be a strategic element of used fuel management; the federal government’s used nuclear fuel program should be transferred to an entity with a management and financing structure that is able to function in the presence of inevitable political and policy uncertainty; current and advanced recycling technologies will not provide the sole solution for used fuel management, but can be a strategic element of any program; research and development and demonstration of advanced technologies should be pursued; and different technologies can be developed to handle fuels from different types of reactors to gain greater benefits.
Used nuclear fuel is stored safety and securely at nuclear power plant sites in vault-like, 40-foot-deep pools and multi-ton, lead-and-concrete dry storage containers.
“Over the past 70 years, applications of nuclear technology including defense, research, medicine, naval propulsion and power production have produced immeasurable benefits for our society,” Fertel said.