It's 2050: Do you know where your nuclear waste is?
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 2011 67: 30 The online version of this article can be found at: can be found at:
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AbstractIn light of JapanÕs nuclear disaster, a major lesson can be learned related to the back end of the fuel cycle:Planning is necessary for the safe and secure management of spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste. But thetopic of storing waste continues to be subject to last-minute solutions, as the experiences of a number ofcountries besides Japan show. Countries with nuclear power programs need a medium-term strategy for spentfuel storage prior to the long-term plan for spent fuel or high-level waste disposal. Though difficult, thedisposal of high-level nuclear waste is possible, and a clear strategy to develop a repository combines bothtechnical and societal criteria in a phased approach. After Fukushima, it is now imperative to redefine whatmakes a successful nuclear power programÑfrom cradle to grave. Nuclear waste management must bedesigned from the beginning; otherwise, the public in many countries will reject nuclear as an energy choice.
KeywordsBlue Ribbon Commission, fuel pools, Fukushima, nuclear power, nuclear waste, planning, repository, siting,spent fuel Though nuclear power produces short-lived ones. Intermediate and then disposed of in landfill-type settings.
trations of long-lived radionuclides.
disposal. The nuclear industry in general and few players in the field of electricity effort into clean-up of their waste prod- ural gas industries and the production of years as the storage at all of the countryÕs now realizing, is that a lack of planning 2011 and is set to bring four nuclear reac- tors online beginning in 2017, has yet to planned a short period of spent fuel stor- age at the reactor site prior to reprocess- accident at a nuclear facility, there may ing, but JapanÕs reprocessing facility has begin operations in 2007, but is still not reactor sites. In light of the countryÕs trous as that posed by reactor core melt- downs. In particular, if spent fuel pools fuel cycle: specifically, that careful plan- are damaged or are not actively cooled, a major crisis could be in sight, especially if the pools are packed with recently dis- and it is best enacted early in the plan- that at the front end, is there so little because active circulation of water is not storage uses passive air cooling, not the active cooling that is available in a pool hot at discharge, it is necessary to cool it in a pool. Spent fuel pools are about 40 reaction that occurs in a reactor. In the reprocess spent fuel soon after discharge find a way to deal with their spent fuel.5 Now, much more fuel is in the pools thanin the reactor coreÑthus, in the event of a loss-of-coolant accident, such asoccurred at Fukushima when the elec- tricity could not be restored, there is a repository have had a very bumpy ride.
amounts of radioactivity (Alvarez et al., addition to spent fuel pools at reactors.
tried to find potential locations by inves- designs, such as individual casks or stor- one, use away-from-reactor facilities.
tion to be submitted by 2015 and the site rock, therefore little chance of large vol- to site a repository failed. The siting pro- operations, while the ÒloserÓ needed an given to the participating communities.
its repository; however, in the late 1990s, with the election of a Red”Green coali- ÒstalemateÓ and lack of public consensus group to re-evaluate the siting process.
failing in its first siting attempt in 1990, plex. The site is regulated solely by the on electricity charges (as is done in the of the site and it appears to be tolerated volume of waste (Hearsey et al., 1999).
Funds must also be managedÑeitherby a waste management organization and ready access to funds over time.
siting the required facilities, especially to be successful, it is important to get the nity to veto a site and how long that veto tution to site, manage, and operate waste entirely a government entity, such as the invited to participate in the site selection 1. Nuclear wastes are classified in various ways, doing the classification. The International general categories of waste produced bycivil waste, very short-lived waste, and very low against a set of standards established by level waste can be stored and then disposed of in landfill-type settings; low level waste, waste require more complex facilities for strain the method by which a site will be 2. Sweden is currently the country closest to realizing a final solution for spent fuel, after having submitted a license applicationfor construction of a geologic repository in March 2011. It plans to open a high-level waste repository sometime after 2025, as do 3. Some countries, such as Sweden, Finland, Canada, and, until recently, the US, plan to dispose of their spent fuel directly in a geo- France, Japan, Russia, and the UK have an interim step. They reprocess their spentfuel, extract the small amount of plutonium produced during irradiation, and use it in plan to dispose of the high-level wastesfrom reprocessing in a repository.
4. These racks were originally open-frame designs, but have been replaced by solid, honeycomb-type racks open only at the top 5. In the 1970s, a few reprocessing plants tial for growth of nuclear power, redefi- operation owing to technical difficulties Carter indefinitely deferred reprocessing electricity but also the safe, secure, and Ronald Reagan reversed this policy, but no 6. In the US, all licensed dry cask designs can take spent fuel five years after discharge; 7. Repository sites must be able to contain the Security 11: 1”51. Available at: http://www.irss- usa.org/pages/documents/11_1Alvarez.pdf.
Clearly, some sites are more suitable than DiPaola A (2011) U.A.E. needs to determine nuclear othersÑfor example, a site that is located fuel disposal plan, Blix says. Bloomberg, 8February. Available at: http://www.bloomberg.
in highly fractured rock with rapid ground- com/news/2011-02-08/u-a-e-needs-to-determine- water circulation would not be reasonable.
8. I am a member of this Commission. Other Hearsey CJ, Emmery D, Kunsch P, et al. (1999) The financing of radioactive waste storage and dis- chair Brent Scowcroft, former national secu- rity advisor to President George H. W. Bush; Mark Ayers, president of the Building and IAEA (2009) Classification of Radioactive Waste, General Safety Guide. IAEA Safety Standards Commissioner; Albert Carnesale, chancellor Series No. GSG-1. Available at: http://www-pub.
IAEA (2010) International Status and Prospects of Nuclear Power. Board of Governors General Nebraska; Jonathan Lash, president of the Conference, GOV/INF/2010/12-GC (54)/INF/5, 2 September. Available at: http://www.iaea.org/ Institution for Science; Ernie Moniz, profes- sor of physics, MIT; Per Peterson, chair, Jenkins-Smith H, Silva C, Nowlin M, and deLozier G (2011) Reversing nuclear opposition: Evolving public acceptance of a permanent nuclear waste disposal facility. Risk Analysis 31(4): 629”644.
Corporation; and Phil Sharp, president ofResources for the Future.
9. Three years after WIPP opened, at least 60 percent of the stateÕs residents supported its Allison Macfarlane is an associate professor operation. See discussion in Jenkins-Smith of environmental science and policy at George Mason University, USA, and is an affiliate ofthe Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. She was named tothe Blue Ribbon Commission on AmericaÕs Alvarez R, Beyea J, Janberg K, et al. (2003a) Response Nuclear Future by US Energy Secretary Steven by the authors to the NRC review of ÒReducing Chu in January 2010, and is the co-editor of the hazards from stored spent power reactor fuelin the United States.Ó Science and Global Security Uncertainty Underground: Yucca Mountain and 11: 213”223. Available at: http://www.irss-usa.org/ the NationÕs High-Level Nuclear Waste (MIT pages/documents/SGS_213-223_response.pdf.
Press, 2006, with Rodney Ewing). She is the Alvarez R, Beyea J, Janberg K, et al. (2003b) Reducing former chair of the BulletinÕs Science and the hazards from stored spent power reactor fuel in the United States. Science and Global

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