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The nuclear waste problem: Where to put it?

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Although the DOE has applied to withdraw Yucca's site license application from Nuclear Regulatory Commission consideration "with prejudice," a term meaning it never expects to refile, industry groups say they may sue to block that decision.

Why is a long-term solution important now?

With Yucca Mountain out of the picture and the Obama administration pushing for an expansion of nuclear power, another long-term storage option is needed. Currently, interim storage occurs in spent-fuel pools and in dry, above-ground casks at reactor sites.

Utilities are required under the Nuclear Waste Management Act of 1982 to keep spent reactor fuel on-site until a permanent disposal site is developed. Since then, utilities have paid billions of dollars into a fund to deal with long-term radioactive waste, but no permanent disposal site has been developed.

Another important issue is environmental: Spent nuclear fuel, which remains dangerously radioactive for millenniums, is a problem if it gets into the open environment – even thousands of years from now.

How big is the US high-level radioactive waste problem?

More than 75,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel are stacked up at 122 temporary sites in 39 states, according to DOE reports. America's 104 commercial nuclear reactors produce about 2,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel each year. If all existing reactors were to be relicensed for 60 years, they would produce about 130,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel over that time, the DOE reported in 2008. Any new nuclear reactors would require additional long-term storage.

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