Resource Guide: Nuclear Waste

Infographic courtesy of the National Journal about nuclear waste by state. See full infographic below.

Infographic courtesy of the National Journal about nuclear waste by state. See full infographic below.

Nuclear waste is what’s leftover after nuclear fuel is used in a reactor. In fact, all forms of thermal energy generation produce waste. Whatever type of fuel is used, these wastes must be managed in ways that protect human health and minimize the impact on the environment.

Forum on Energy has compiled a comprehensive Nuclear Waste Resource Guide on the complexities and realities of storing, removing and processing nuclear waste.

The Nuclear Waste Resource Guide identifies the most relevant and easy-to-understand online resources from more numerous national and international organizations. The guide also includes:

Forum on Energy invites you to explore the guide and inform yourself about nuclear waste. Click through the sections below to learn more.

Nuclear Waste in the News

 Nevada awaiting court ruling on Yucca Mountain licensing
“A court is expected to rule in the next few weeks whether the federal government will be forced to go forward with licensing of a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. Bob Halstead, director of Nevada’s Nuclear Waste Project Office, and consultant Joe Strolin told the Nevada Senate Finance Committee the state is ready to challenge a ruling in favor of moving forward. Aiken County and the state of South Carolina, Washington state and others filed a suit to force the Department of Energy to go forward with its licensing application for Yucca Mountain, which has been in a state of limbo.”
Source: Las Vegas Sun

Four States Show Interest in Storing Nuclear Waste
Officials from four states, including New Mexico, have expressed interest in becoming home to a temporary or permanent nuclear waste storage site, according to Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Pete Lyons. The other three states were not disclosed. Last month the U.S. Department of Energy announced plans to build a permanent site by 2048, with temporary sites planned in the interim, while a handful of senators are trying to push through long- overdue resolutions on nuclear waste management. However, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) recently states that any nuclear waste management legislation must include Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a national repository if it hopes to pass a vote in the House. Shimkus is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy. The United States currently has approximately 65,000 metric tons of nuclear waste awaiting a permanent disposal site.
Source: E&E News

Former Yucca Mountain Chief Questions Nuclear Waste Effort
A hydrogeologist who oversaw the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site says the government’s new “consent-based” search for waste depositories doesn’t go far enough. Last month the Department of Energy launched a 35-year search for a new permanent waste depository, with interim depositories to open in as little as eight years. In its plan the DOE emphasized a “consent-based approach” in which local governments could volunteer sites. But the U.S. has already seen consent-based depository proposals fail. “It’s now over half a century since the dawn of nuclear energy and dangerous and long-lived waste continues to pile up all over the globe. Something needs to be done,” [former Yucca Mountain chief William Alley and his wife and co-author Rosemarie Alley] write. “Although touted as the solution, finding a consenting community is merely the first step. The harder part is getting everyone else to sign on.”
Source: Forbes

Japan to rethink candidate sites for nuclear waste disposal
The Environment Ministry said Monday that it will restart the process to select candidate final storage sites for radioactive waste from the triple-meltdown disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant, because residents living near the current chosen locations are up in arms. Last September, the ministry selected state-owned forests near the communities of Yaita, Tochigi Prefecture, and Takahagi, Ibaraki Prefecture, as candidate sites for final disposal facilities of radioactive waste, mainly that from fallout from the nuclear catastrophe in neighboring Fukushima Prefecture that was triggered by the March 11, 2011, megaquake-tsunami disaster. But the two towns demanded those candidate sites be dropped, claiming the explanation provided last fall by the Democratic Party of Japan-led government that was in power at the time was insufficient.
Source: The Japan Times

Hungarian repository receives first waste
“After fifteen years of work and an investment of HUF68 billion ($310 million), the first disposal chamber at Bataapati in southern Hungary has now been completed by the country’s Public Limited Company for Radioactive Waste Management (Puram). The inauguration of the repository took place on 5 December. The ceremony took place in two stages: first with the cutting of a ribbon at the western incline to the repository and then the cutting of a ribbon at the entrance to the storage chamber, some 250 metres below ground.”
Source: World Nuclear News

Nuclear Waste in the Age of Climate Change
“Scientists determined long ago that the best place to store nuclear waste was not on- site at power plants but underground in an earthquake-proof repository where it can be kept for millions of years. Congress decreed in a 1987 law where that repository should be: Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. But Nevada lawmakers—who derided the law as the “Screw Nevada Act”—vowed to keep nuclear waste out of their home state. So, the project has stayed dormant, and President Obama has said that Yucca is “not an option” for a dump. But new realities—including the specter of Fukushima, the fragile economy, a soaring deficit, and a renewed push for action on climate change—have revived interest in finding a solution to the nation’s nuclear-waste problem. The effort is also getting a push from the emergence of a key senator, whose efforts illustrate dramatically how local politics can influence national policy.”
Source: National Journal

DOE Will Not Alter Nuclear Waste Storage Fees
Despite the fact that U.S. nuclear plant operators and owners are storing—and have been storing—their own nuclear waste, U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu has announced there will not be any changes to the fees that nuclear power utilities pay for the disposal of spent fuel by the federal government. The utilities have paid about $750 million annually for the past three decades. “At first blush, we find it difficult to understand how the department can justify charging nuclear utilities and their consumers for a program they effectively concede does not exist,” said Robert Thormeyer, spokesman for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. The government’s decision is in response to a federal court ruling to re-evaluate the nuclear waste storage fees.
Source: SNL

States, Utilities Seeks Expedited Suspension of Nuclear Waste Fees, Review of DOE Filing
“The Department of Energy’s recent review of the fees charged to nuclear utilities and their consumers for the nation’s nuclear-waste program runs counter to judicial and congressional intent, State utility regulators and nuclear utilities said. The case centers around the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which Congress passed in 1982 setting forth the nation’s nuclear waste policy. The law required the Department of Energy to enter into contracts with the nation’s nuclear utilities to pay for the transportation and eventual storage of their nuclear waste into a central, geographic repository, which became Yucca Mountain, Nev. The contracts are paid for through fees assessed by the Energy Department to the nuclear utilities and their consumers. Not long after taking office, the Obama Administration sought to suspend the nuclear-waste program and an ongoing review of the Yucca Mountain license application. However, collection of the Nuclear Waste Fund fees continued unabated.”
Source: Power Engineering

Wyden open to moving nuclear waste to interim storage sites
“Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) says he would be open to moving nuclear waste from high-risk reactors to interim storage sites. The incoming Senate Energy and Natural Resources chairman’s stance, which differs from current Chairman Jeff Bingaman’s (D-N.M.), could help revive efforts to address the nation’s nuclear waste management. Bingaman sought to prohibit storing spent nuclear fuel at temporary storage sites until steps were taken to establish a permanent, long-term repository. That position led to nuclear waste talks breaking down this Congress. Wyden’s outlook — however tentative at this point — is a big positive for moving a bill on nuclear waste management next Congress, Robert Dillon, spokesman with committee ranking member Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), told The Hill.”
Source: The Hill

RAND Study Looks at Approaches to Disposing Nuclear Waste
A new study from RAND Corporation has identified a federal government corporation and an independent government agency as the best potential options for dealing with the disposal of spent nuclear fuel and waste. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) tasked RAND with analyzing alternative models and developing a framework to help the government determine the best path. Either approach “can achieve the critical attributes of accountability, transparent decisionmaking, insulation from political control, a public interest mission and organizational stability,” according to Smart Energy Universe. Earlier this week DOE announced plans to build a permanent waste burial site by 2048.
Sources: Smart Energy Universe, RAND Corporation

Finland expects to begin to bury nuclear waste in 2022
“Finnish Posiva on Friday asked for government permit to construct a final repository for used nuclear fuel, planned to be the first site in the world to start burying capsulated nuclear waste. Posiva, owned by Finnish utilities Fortum and Teollisuuden Voima (TVO), plans to bury used nuclear fuel around 400 metres deep in Onkalo bedrock on Olkiluoto island, some 230 km northwest of Helsinki. The spent nuclear fuel is planned to be buried for at least 100,000 years in encased capsules of copper and cast iron and surrounded by buffers of bentonite clay, that swells if it gets in contact with water. The clay will prevent the spread of radioactive material into the bedrock.”
Source: Reuters

States, Utilities Pushing NRC to Finish Review of Yucca Mountain
A collection of states, utility regulators and the Nuclear Energy Institute are calling on a federal appeals court to make the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) finish reviewing the Yucca Mountain repository. The NRC has said it lacks the funds to do so. “Because the decision as enunciated by the nation’s representatives and recorded in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act has not been altered, the NRC’s obligations to move forward on the license application, using the funding provided by law, should be enforced,” wrote the petitioners, according to E&E. Congressman John Shimkus (R, Illinois-15) has said that the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, which he chairs, will work to make sure the NRC and the U.S. Department of Energy carry out the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
Sources: E&E (Subscription only),

Search on for nuclear-waste solution
“How is an atomic-powered island country riddled with fault lines supposed to handle its nuclear waste? Part of the answer was supposed to come from this windswept village along Japan’s northern coast. By hosting a high-tech facility that would convert spent fuel into a plutonium-uranium mix designed for the next generation of reactors, Rokkasho was supposed to provide fuel while minimizing nuclear waste storage problems. Those ambitions are falling apart because years of attempts to build a “fast breeder” reactor, which would use the reprocessed fuel, appear to be ending in failure. But Japan still intends to reprocess spent fuel at Rok-kasho. It sees few other options, even though it will mean extracting plutonium that could be used to make nuclear weapons.”
Source: The Vancouver Sun

Industry, Activists at Odds Over Security Risks of Interim Waste Storage
“Industry and watchdog groups are at odds over whether the Obama administration’s plan to move nuclear waste from power plants to a centralized interim storage location would increase the risk of a successful terrorist attack. In a report released on Friday, the Energy Department endorsed a plan that would consolidate at one or more locations waste now stored at 72 civilian power plants and various nuclear weapons sites. The material would remain there in government custody until a permanent, underground repository is established. While specific details pertaining to such a site do not yet exist, the plan assumes one could be operational by 2048.”
Source: NTI

DOE Plans Permanent Nuclear Waste Burial Site for 2048
The U.S. Department of Energy is now targeting 2048 as the deadline for opening a permanent underground disposal site for nuclear waste. There is currently about 68,000 metric tons of waste at commercial reactors sites. The new program calls for a temporary above-ground site for about 3,600 metric tons of waste by 2021 and a larger facility for 20,000 metric tons by 2025. Exactly where the final facility will be built is far from being decided, with some groups pushing the Obama administration to reconsider Yucca Mountain. A permanent Yucca Mountain facility was once planned for 2020, but that proposal has since been scrapped.
Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal

Nuclear Waste Graphics

Infographic courtesy of the National Journal about federal spending on nuclear waste and nuclear waste by state.

Infographic courtesy of the National Journal about federal spending on nuclear waste and nuclear waste by state.

View the following graphics that illustrate nuclear waste and its relationship with time, radioactivity, spending, and more.

  • National Journal created an infographic showing a map of federal spending on spent nuclear fuel storage. [See infographic above.]
  • Bloomberg released an infographic map detailing the location and extent of spent nuclear fuel across the United States.
  • The Nuclear Energy Institute hosts a repository of different graphs and charts about nuclear waste disposal.
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission offers a visual look at the conceptual design of Yucca Mountain disposal plan               




The compilation of nuclear waste videos below includes educational and useful clips from various sources.

  • According to a Heritage Foundation documentary, Powering America: Managing Nuclear Waste, “While nuclear operators have safely managed and stored spent nuclear fuel, America’s current system of handling spent fuel is broken and unsustainable.”
  • A Google Tech Talk seeks to answer the question, “Is Nuclear Waste Really Waste?
  • The BBC provides a look at Cumbria’s nuclear waste disposal dilemma in a news report from late 2012.
  • Ontario Power Generation offers a glimpse into Canada’s nuclear waste management practices.
  • Environment & Energy Publishing TV’s OnPoint program released two videos, including an interview with Marv Fertel, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, discussing the prospects for legislation and the future of nuclear in the United States and internationally, as well as a joint interview with former Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) about why they believe the United States should avoid restrictions on the international trade of energy.


TooHotToTouchToo Hot to Touch: The Problem of High-Level Nuclear Waste 
By William M. Alley and Rosemarie Alley

William and Rosemarie Alley provide an authoritative account of the controversies and possibilities surrounding disposal of nuclear waste in the United States, with reference also to other countries around the world. The book tells the full history from the beginnings after World War II up to today, bringing to life the pioneering science, the political wrangling and media drama, and the not-in-my-backyard communities fighting to put waste elsewhere. 

UncertaintyUndergroundUncertainty Underground: Yucca Mountain and the Nation’s High-Level Nuclear Waste
By Allison MacFarlane, Rodney Ewing

MacFarlane and Ewing provide reliable science-based information to support open debate and inquiry into the safety of the Yucca Mountain, Nevada, disposal site of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel which is not yet in operation, despite approval by Congress and the Bush administration and over seven billion dollars already spent.

Online Resources

International Atomic Energy Agency

Nuclear Energy Institute

United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission

What is Nuclear? Website

World Nuclear Association