U.S. Spent Nuclear Fuel
May 25, 2011
The central planning approach to U.S. spent nuclear fuel management has been a glaring and unsuccessful exception to the trend toward a market-driven energy sector. This report envisions a market-driven approach, which would include eight components:
- Phase out utilities’ payments to the federal government for spent fuel management in favor of payments into escrow funds.
- Reassess the radioisotope containment criteria for spent fuel repositories (i.e., the “million-year” benchmark).
- Do not require prompt deep burial of all spent fuel.
- Provide federal support for preparation of licenses for away-from-reactor spent fuel storage facilities.
- Remove nontechnical restrictions on maximum volumes and site license durations for away-from-reactor spent fuel management facilities.
- Treat all states equally in voluntary licensing processes, including Nevada.
- Allow the private sector options to: keep spent fuel at reactor sites; ship it to another of their reactor sites in the same state; ship it to a reactor site of another company in the same state and transfer the escrow fund balance to that company; or ship it out of state. Shipments out of state could be to a spent fuel storage facility that might or might not be located at a licensed deep underground repository, to a repository for prompt emplacement, or to a reprocessing facility if one is available.
- Allow states to import foreign spent fuel, to the extent consistent with U.S. nonproliferation policy and U.S. facilities’ capacity to handle domestic spent nuclear fuel.
Consistent with federal requirements on safety, security, and sound financial management, this approach should provide current and future generations with the flexibility needed to take advantage of technological improvements, adapt to varying levels of spent nuclear fuel, and make decisions about the fate of spent nuclear fuel decades in advance. Fundamentally, this approach would convert spent nuclear fuel from a liability to an asset.