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    A little of our opinion about nuclear fuel reprocessing

    There are a wide variety of papers, studies and opinions about nuclear waste reprocessing. As with all our comments they are basically our opinion based on our position of logical common since reasoning not as scientists or engineers. We are trying to provide a portal of information to the general public. So, our comments do not necessarily address all portions of an issue.

The Reprocessing Question is over Asked and under Decided

To begin with the massive upfront costs related to the nuclear energy industry and exhaustive regulation systems that are applied by U. S. agencies to nuclear power plants are responsible for making them the safest large volume 24/7 365 energy producers on the planet. At the same time, we have been trying for 30 years to make renewable sources cost effective and this challenge continues. We have not educated the public throughout the world that nuclear energy “economics” must be “projected” at 60 to 100 years of “operation” as these are what the plants are designed for. Now, these are not “estimates” we have thirty years of nuclear plant track records and zero public fatalities in the U. S. This is unprecedented in ANY other base load power generation method on the planet.

The long and short of the reprocessing assessment, since President Reagan “lifted” the U. S. ban on commercial reprocessing of spent nuclear fuels in 1981 has always been the economics (some still believe it is banned, it’s not).  A commercial reprocessing facility with the capacity to complete between 800 and 1,000 metric tons annually may cost 10 billion dollars to build in China’s “economics” but 30 billion to build in the U. S. economics. For the past 30 years nearly all of the indecisiveness related to a U. S. reprocessing direction has been the difficulty in facing the economics. Also, over these years, technology has advanced several new and/or different methods for reprocessing, basically introducing yet another decision dilemma. This is why such intense projects have to be decided by the “science community” because the “political community” changes every four-eight years and the capacity to focus is lost. In essence, the DOE and NRC have failed to enlighten Congress and the American public to the scientific need and economic commitment to make reprocessing a “national initiative”; this is what needs to be done. Its costs can only be justified if the program is “painted” as a 100 year mission. Remember, many of us are convinced that America still needs another 150 new nuclear plants to serve our future energy growth and be “energy cost competitive” worldwide. And still, these added plants will also need 6% FINAL deep geologic storage.

Then there are those who say that Thorium fuels, pebble bed reactors, etc. will eliminate everything in today’s nuclear waste cycle. Some of our “reality” friends will say many of these are STILL laboratory projects and we will get there in time . . . but we need to START builds based on “TODAY’S functioning technology” over the next twenty years then see where the lab projects are at that time. These same “technology advances” will be occurring with solar and wind, biomass, etc. We must drive these technologies scientifically, but build today’s projects economically.

Vitrification shop interim storage hall R7. AREVA La Hague France UP2-800 used fuel treatment plant.

“If” we were to consider a full scale reprocessing facility; estimates are about 12,000 jobs, including 1,000 design jobs during the construction and about 2,500 permanent jobs for decades of operation. A project of this magnitude has the potential to evoke a substantial economic impact on any community and create up to 70,000 jobs overall. Based on the current costs of natural uranium fuel, the “potential value” of the current U. S. stockpile of 66,000 metric tons of commercial reactor spent nuclear fuel would be; $130,000 X 66,000 tons = 8,580,000,000 (8 billion 580 million dollars). We looked at the values of two different opinions, to determine an estimated value of 7 to 11 billion dollars with its reprocessed cost price competitive to natural uranium fuel costs after enrichment. And, as one can see, our current stockpile is only 1/3 the cost for the facility. Now, as we mentioned above, as we build 150 new plants those 6% waste additions will amortize our 30 billion dollar reprocessing facility over 60 – 100 years, fully amortize its cost and generate revenue. (Maybe even be foolish enough to offer “our reprocessing services” to other countries for income and American jobs).

With the “experience” of negative U. S. political interests in a strong nuclear build and reprocessing, NO private company or investors are going to risk building such a facility until they see the full “long term” support of the politics and public policy in America as a “national initiative”. This is the single largest deterrent to “commercial scale” reprocessing in the U. S. The science and engineering is accomplished, proven and functional. This entire dialogue that America has studied for 30 years is a fundamental reason that “We the People” must speak up and “separate science from politics” and allow technology to advance the sciences we need to benefit our lives and as a nation be “energy economically competitive”.

Science and engineering understand the U. S. need for  expanding our nuclear fleet but the government does not, putting most of its attention on (still expensive) renewable energy with only a few waving the nuclear flag. No matter what administration is at the helm, government MUST re-affirm our need for nuclear expansion. Again here, it needs to be a “national initiative”. Nuclear should be re-classified as “green” and allotted government commitment. The nuclear industry has been wrongly battered by government and the environmental movements for years. It needs government to offer the industry 30 – 50% investment tax credits or working loan guarantees for all who build carbon free baseload power, or a tax holiday for the first ten years of operation of carbon free facilities. These incentives would be available to wind, solar and nuclear development. We must raise the success potential for such projects which have been unfairly brutalized in the past.

© Gary J. Duarte, US Nuclear Energy Foundation

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