Interim Dry-cask Storage vs. Spent

Interim Dry-cask Storage
Spent-fuel Reprocessing
Frank von Hippel, Princeton University
Co-chair, International Panel on Fissile Material (IPFM)
Senate Staff Briefing, 20 July 2009
IPFM Reports on reprocessing and breeder programs
International Panel on Fissile Materials website:
Managing Spent Fuel in the United States: The Illogic of Reprocessing
(“Rethinking Nuclear Fuel Recycling,” Scientific American, May 2008)
Japan’s Spent Fuel and Plutonium Management Challenges
Spent Fuel Reprocessing in France
The Legacy of Reprocessing in the United Kingdom
uranium fuel
4.4% U-235
12 feet
95.6 %
What is spent fuel?
U-238 &
0.8% U-235
1.2% plutonium
5.4% fission products
& misc.
8 inches
Brief history of U.S. debate over reprocessing
(Reprocessing involves dissolving the spent fuel and recovering
separated plutonium)
1960s and early 1970s
Massive US Atomic Energy Commission program to promote
plutonium breeder reactors worldwide, including
encouraging other countries to recover plutonium from
spent fuel to startup the breeder reactors.
In 1974, India used the first plutonium it separated with
U.S. assistance for a nuclear explosive.
Brief History (cont.)
The Debate Since
1974-77: Ford and Carter Administration reviews concluded
reprocessing and breeder reactors uneconomic and
1981: Reagan Administration supported reprocessing -- if paid
for by the utilities. But the utilities not interested.
2006: G.W. Bush Administration proposed to build a
reprocessing plant with taxpayer money but Congress
became skeptical and refused funding.
2009: Obama Administration supports only research.
For 75% of global nuclear capacity (including in U.S.)
spent fuel is stored in cooling ponds for up to 2 decades and then
in massive air-cooled dry casks (Connecticut Yankee, U.S.)
In France, spent fuel is chemically “reprocessed”
and plutonium is recycled in fresh fuel once
But it does get the spent fuel off the reactor sites but:
• Costs $0.5 billion more for a 1000-MWe nuclear power
plant (report to the Prime Minister, 2000); and
• Complicates the waste problem.
Japan is trying to emulate France but its reprocessing plant
costs twice as much per unit capacity and it doesn’t work.
UK reprocessing has been a failure and a taxpayer-funded
Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has been established
to carry out a $100 billion cleanup project.
La Hague reprocessing plant
($18 billion overnight capital) and $0.9 billion/year operational cost
Huge quantities of concentrated liquid radioactive waste (100
Chernobyl equivalents) – a potential terrorism target.
U.S. Nuclear Utility Position
They are paying 0.1 cent per nuclear kWh to the U.S.
Government to dispose of their spent fuel in an
underground repository (1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act).
If the Government decides on a costly program to build a
reprocessing plant and plutonium burner reactors, the
taxpayer should pay the extra cost ($100s of billions).
Reprocessing and US nonproliferation policy
After India’s 1974 nuclear test, U.S. policy became (in effect):
“We don’t reprocess; you don’t need to either.”
A tremendous success. Many countries abandoned reprocessing.
Only one non-weapon state (Japan) reprocesses today (started in
All other countries that reprocess today used reprocessing
initially to acquire nuclear weapons.
Why Reprocessing fosters nuclear-weapons proliferation
Plutonium in Spent fuel protected
by fission products
Spent fuel assembly
Separated plutonium
handled easily
Separated plutonium
pounds, 12 feet long
contains 5 kg of plutonium)
1 m.
50 years after discharge, fuel assembly lethal
(400 rems) in 30 min.
20-ton container to transport & reprocessing
behind thick walls to recover plutonium
3 feet
2.5 kg plutonium in light-weight container.
Can be processed in a glove box. 3-4 cans
enough for Nagasaki-type bomb.
(Mayak Reprocessing Plant, 1994)
There is no such thing as
“proliferation-resistant” reprocessing
The plutonium dilutants that have been proposed by DOE
raise the radiation level from the mix to less than 0.00001
of level from 50-year-old spent fuel.
-- An insignificant improvement over separated plutonium.
Even if the radiation levels were higher, possession of a
reprocessing plant with its remote handling capabilities
would make it easy to separate out pure plutonium.
Bush Administration proposal for solving the
proliferation problem associated with reprocessing
In 2004, President Bush proposed the Global Nuclear Energy
Partnership (GNEP) (in effect):
“In order to prevent the spread of the technology, countries
that already do so will reprocess spent fuel for non-weapon
states (other than Japan).”
Many countries objected to a discriminatory regime in which
some countries can own fuel-cycle facilities and others cannot.
In any case, selling reprocessing services internationally has
already been tried and failed.
(all countries with nuclear power plants)
Why are countries not interested in renewing their
reprocessing contracts?
The first reprocessing contract allows a country to export its
spent fuel problem temporarily but, once the high-level
waste starts coming back, grace period is over.
Domestic politics in the reprocessing countries require that
they send back the high-level radioactive waste to their
No reason for a country pay 10x the cost of storage to turn
spent fuel into high-level radioactive waste.
Oct. 2007: National Academy of Sciences Peer Review
(, Summary, pp. 8-9)
"All committee members agree that the GNEP [DOE’s Global
Nuclear Energy Partnership reprocessing] program should
not go forward and should be replaced by a less aggressive
research program” (same conclusion as 1996 review).
(Only dissent was by those who did not see the point of any more R&D.)
Safety of interim storage of dry-cask spent fuel at reactor sites
No accident risk and, at
operating nuclear power plants,
potential consequences of most
attacks on dry-cask-stored fuel
would be orders of magnitude
less than the potential
consequences from an attack on
the reactor or its spent-fuelstorage pool.
Spent fuel should be removed
eventually but no reason to
Summary: Cost and benefits of reprocessing
Costs much more than dry-cask storage.
Much more dangerous than dry-cask storage (liquid HLW).
France’s approach does not reduce radioactive waste problem.
Other approaches result in minor reductions at most
Makes plutonium much easier to steal.
Provides cover for countries to separate plutonium for weapons
(as India did in 1974).
1) Provides an interim off-site destination for spent fuel (political)
2) Tens of billions of dollars for Areva (hence relentless lobbying).

similar documents