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U.S. Continues to Stand Alone Against Nuclear Recycling March 2, 2008

Posted by federalist in Energy.
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Environmentalists are a mercurial lot.  They support laws to compel people to recycle even when it is wasteful to do so, but raise no complaint about the other law that prohibits recycling of our most dangerous and useful recyclables: nuclear waste.  William Tucker describes this bizarre holdover from the blinkered Carter administration:

[F]ederal regulations require all radioactive byproducts of nuclear power plants to be disposed of in a nuclear waste repository. As a result, more than 98 percent of what will go into Yucca Mountain is either natural uranium or useful material. Why are we wasting so much effort on such a needless task? Because in 1977, President Carter decided to outlaw nuclear recycling. The fear then was that other countries would steal our plutonium to make nuclear bombs. (India had just purloined plutonium from a Canadian-built reactor to make its bomb.) This has turned out to be a false alarm. Countries that have built bombs have either drawn plutonium from their own reactors or—as Iran is trying to do now—enriched their own uranium. Canada, Britain, France and Russia are all recycling their nuclear fuel. France has produced 80 percent of its electricity with nuclear power for the last 25 years. It stores all its high-level “nuclear waste” in a single room at Le Havre.

Instead of profitable recycling, the U.S. government has spent $4 billion over 25 years studying and preparing a long-term waste storage site at Yucca Mountain.  Costs to actually store nuclear waste there would run into tens of billions of dollars.

[20090127 Addendum: Starting 2015 the global uranium market is expected to face large deficits.  I asked one market analyst how much fuel the United States could harvest from our existing “waste” if it were recycled, and he responded, “The materials potentially available for recycling (but locked up in stored used fuel) could conceivably run the US reactor fleet of about 100 GWe for almost 30 years with no new uranium input.”]

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Comments»

1. Recycling Nuclear Material: Why not I ask? « ReasonableCitizen - August 18, 2008

[…] 17, 2008 · No Comments The Federalist has the posting about the requirement to always store nuclear waste instead of recycling […]

2. preplan - October 14, 2008

I’m no nuclear scientist but repressing nuclear waste has an immense number of problems and many of the countries involved in it are in the process of reversing their policies. (a) The process of reprocessing creates 60 times the volume of waste that must be stored for upwards of 100 years as it cools. (b) Reprocessed waste creates highly concentrated nuclear waste as a by product including plutonium and other by products than can be used for nuclear weapons (c) It is expensive (d) It is dangerous (e) The waste must be moved around the country side (to and from the reprocessing facility) creating more chance for accidents and terrorist attacks. There is more but you get the point, it’s not quite the saqme as recycling newspapers and there are issues.

Renewable energy will happen and there is another reason why that day should be sooner than later. The world is running out of uranium and a good deal of it comes from countries that are every bit as unstable and unfriendly to the U.S. as the oil producing nations. By some estiimates we have less than 50 years of uranium left and if it take 30 years to build nuke plants, that implies a 20 year usable life making them entirely un-economic. Reprocessing may help the situation, but it won’t solve the supply issue entirely.


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