The disposal of nuclear waste is one of the most intractable infrastructure projects for countries throughout the world. There are already 266,000 tonnes of waste in storage found the world. More than 30 countries around the world use nuclear energy, thus producing a large amount of waste which could be damaging to the public if not dealt with properly. This has led to countries coming up with innovative ways to deal with the waste safely, or even using it for their benefit.
In 1977 President Carter banned nuclear reprocessing, and while Great Britain, France, Russia, and Japan looked into ways to reuse the material, the United States nuclear fuel has been stored in nuclear power plants throughout the country. Because of this ban Americans have spent billions of dollars to store spent fuel from nuclear production, and continue to foot the bill for the stockpiles of waste in storage around the country.
Countries that have found ways to recycle nuclear waste have shown it is safe and useful, enabling producers of nuclear energy to close the fuel cycle. Reprocessing reduces both nuclear waste and the cost of nuclear generated power. India has recently become the first country to reuse nuclear waste on a large scale.
Recently, India became the first country in the world where the reprocessing of nuclear waste is being used for civilian applications. “There has been no incident of release of radioactivity from such disposed wastes. No effect of radiation from the disposed wastes on the public or the environment has been observed,” Minister of State Jitendra Singh stated.
Like the United States, India has managed to store some of their waste in underground facilities. “The areas, where the disposal structures are located, are kept under constant surveillance with the help of bore-wells laid out in a planned manner. The underground soil and water samples from these bore wells are routinely monitored and to confirm effective confinement of radioactivity present in the disposed waste,” Jitendra Singh said. However, much of India’s spent fuel is recycled back as fuel for future reactors, thus not becoming a financial burden for citizens who would otherwise need to pay for its storage.
France has managed to financially gain from use of its nuclear reprocessing facility. By recycling spent fuel, France is able to export nuclear generated energy to other European countries, netting them billions of dollars a year.
In the past two years Finland has become the first country to license and start contraction on a final repository for highly radioactive waste fuel from nuclear reactors. When finished, 3,250 canisters, containing half a tonne of spent fuel each, will be buried in up to 70km of tunnels. Experts at the global body of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have stated other countries, such as Sweden and France, are not far behind.
In the United States, plans to store tens of thousands of tonnes of spent nuclear fuel in West Texas has been put on hold. The reason for the hold is because of the negative financial position the company, Waste Control Specialists, is in. Bleeding for cash, and struggling to find the funds to finance necessary licensing processes. Behind the scenes EnergySolutions, a Utah based waste company, has been trying to buy Waste Control Specialists. However, the US Department of Justice, is suing to block the merger arguing it would essentially create a monopoly on radioactive waste disposal.
Currently, there is no current discussion on plans to lift the Carter administration ban on recycling nuclear waste, or any other alternative to nuclear waste storage. While the federal government has been struggling to figure out a permanent solution to their nuclear waste storage problem, Waste Control Specialists has been the only company in the country to officially seek to building a temporary storage facility. President Donald Trump and his administration has included a budget request for $120m to restart construction of a high-level waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, chosen in 1987 but has been stalled since 2010.
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