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Nuclear fuel: How to store it safely

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Gerry Broome/AP/File

(Read caption) The Bank of America building is seen in uptown Charlotte. Charlotte has become a hub of the nuclear industry, Franch writes, and hosts a dynamic energy cluster that benefits from access to world-class educational institutions and a supportive infrastructure.

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It is no secret that the Southeast is one of the fastest-growing areas in the United States. The Southeast’s GDP was $3.45 trillion in 2012, $600 billion more than the Pacific and Mid-Atlantic regions. Further, population rise in the South has maintained a brisk pace for decades. Charlotte and Raleigh in particular are recognized as economically dynamic, culturally vibrant cities, and boast an unmatched quality of life.

The important links between quality of life, economic growth and energy consumption are not secret. In order for the Carolinas to maintain economic progress, we need to ensure the production of a stable and robust electricity supply. This requires reliable and inexpensive power from a balanced and diverse generation portfolio that includes the vital contribution of nuclear power.

Nuclear power provides approximately 35 percent of North Carolina’s electricity generation. This is clean, safe, affordable and reliable electricity that serves as the stable energy foundation for economic growth in the state. Charlotte has become a hub of the nuclear industry and hosts a dynamic energy cluster that benefits from access to world-class educational institutions and a supportive infrastructure. 

Earlier this week, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) held a public meeting in Charlotte to discuss a proposed rule that would serve as the basis for the commission’s confidence that used nuclear fuel can and will be safely stored after generating electric power. The commission has taken a serious and thorough approach to examining the potential environmental impacts of used nuclear fuel storage, and the public deserves this regulatory diligence.

The technical aspects for safe and effective used nuclear fuel management are well understood. From our operating experience and technical expertise, we know in astounding detail the characteristics of used nuclear fuel, and how to design systems and protections to assure proper containment and safeguards. This is supported by our proven track record of safe, secure onsite storage in used fuel pools and in dry storage, both in the United States and abroad, over many decades. Our challenge is to leverage these technological and engineering capabilities to support a sustainable policy path that includes ultimate disposition of material in a geologic repository.

This particular rule is important because a clear determination from the NRC of their confidence in the safe management of used nuclear fuel will allow the commission to resume issuing licenses and license renewals for the operation of nuclear plants and safe, onsite storage of used nuclear fuel. This will assure the continued operation and growth of nuclear electricity generation in the Southeast and power the region’s economic growth.

Citizens of North Carolina should be comfortable supporting the NRC’s conclusion that used nuclear fuel can be stored safely and they deserve timely completion of the rulemaking process. Charlotte’s leadership in nuclear power and the energy industry is the foundation for economic growth in the Carolinas. Throughout the Southeast and all of North America, we are moving forward with confidence toward a clean, safe and affordable energy future.

Tom Franch, is senior vice president of AREVA Inc. North America

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