fuelpoolSince the development of the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository was terminated in 2011, no long-term plan for storing spent nuclear fuel accumulating at nuclear power plants has been developed. As a result, utilities have been forced to store spent nuclear fuel “on site,” where storage space grows tight and is increasingly expensive to manage.

The federal government is required by law to provide (since 1998) offsite storage for spent nuclear fuel, but has yet to do so. Furthermore, until last month’s ruling by a federal appeals court, the Department of Energy (DOE) had been collecting a fee from nuclear utilities to fund a long-term storage program. However, no such program currently exists, a point many utilities have subsequently sued DOE over, and won. Payments and settlements to utilities to-date exceed $2.6 billion, and some estimate that number could exceed $20 billion if DOE doesn’t accept spent fuel by 2020.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and three others proposed a bill, “The Nuclear Waste Administration Act” (S. 1240), intended to address the spent nuclear fuel storage issue. The bill, currently being considered in committee, would create a new agency specifically organized to handle nuclear waste, and set up interim off-site storage locations that utilities could use in exchange for settling their lawsuits.

How significant is the nuclear waste disposal problem? Is Senate Bill 1240 a viable solution? Are there other solutions, such as reprocessing?

Relevant resources:
“Spent Nuclear Fuel: Accumulating Quantities at Commercial Reactors Present Storage and Other Challenges”  — U.S. GAO Report