From WA Times
Two years ago, a bipartisan blue-ribbon commission on the nuclear waste problem considered reprocessing. In its report, the commission cited the need for additional research and development of reprocessing technology to address its cost as well as safety and proliferation concerns. In other words, the commission more or less kicked the can down the road, downplaying the potential role of reprocessing in the use of nuclear power.
Fortunately, that is not the end of the story. The Department of Energy (DOE) faces a huge legal liability over its continuing failure to take possession of used fuel, as it was required by law to do beginning in 1998. DOE itself acknowledged in 2009 that such liabilities would reach $11 billion even if the planned repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada were to become available. Now that the Yucca Mountain project has been abandoned, and consumers of nuclear-generated electricity are still paying a monthly fee for its construction, DOE’s liability has skyrocketed. Moreover, political pressure is mounting in state public utility commissions and Congress to force DOE to drop the fee. It’s not small change. Since 1982, electricity users have paid more than $20 billion into the Nuclear Waste Fund.
What to do?
Start with the big question: How did we get into the mess we’re in?
For one thing, President Jimmy Carter never should have banned the use of reprocessing. He did so on grounds that it could lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Yet other countries with nuclear programs, like France and Great Britain, did not follow the U.S. example, and they have continued to reprocess used fuel safely and efficiently. They adhere to safeguards laid down by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Mel Buckner is a nuclear engineer and an adjunct professor in the Nuclear Program at the University of South Carolina.