Julianne Antrobus, head of nuclear at PA Consulting, discusses the storage of spent reactor fuel.
The U.S. Department of Energy earlier this year said the nation’s nuclear reactors generate about 2,000 metric tons of used fuel annually. The agency said the U.S. nuclear power industry has produced about 83,000 metric tons of used fuel since the 1950s, with commercial used fuel rods stored at 76 reactor or storage sites in 34 states.
Worldwide, more than a quarter-million metric tons of radioactive nuclear waste sits in storage. That includes used fuel, and the waste from facilities involved in producing nuclear weapons or that reprocess and recycle used power plant fuel.
Permanent disposal of this waste has been a contentious issue. Several countries, including Switzerland, Finland, and others in Europe, have studied and planned deep geological repositories for their nuclear waste. Finland is furthest along; construction of the Onkalo disposal facility, the world’s first permanent geological repository, is ongoing, with the site scheduled to begin operating in 2025. U.S. nuclear waste, like waste across much of the world, remains in interim storage, though analysts admit the interim tag could in fact become the permanent solution.
Julianne says: “I don’t believe there is a silver bullet, and there is not a single approach that provides the best solution. The decision of how to deal with nuclear waste from existing facilities is a national policy decision but influenced by local considerations and dominated by the host communities that will provide the most optimum location for such a facility. These locations are often in remote and sometimes economically challenged areas.”
Julianne continues: “There are two things to consider. First, the host communities need to be accepting of such a facility. Second, the facility needs to bolster the community. With the right planning and approach, host communities that accept such a facility could see investment in local infrastructure, hospital development, enhanced programs for schools, job creation from construction and operations of the facility, etc.”