One of the biggest problems related to nuclear energy is managing the nuclear waste produced. Ideas have included reprocessing used fuel to minimize the quantity of waste and storing waste in locations like Yucca Mountain and even the moon. Currently, the United States has no long-term solution to this problem, but one must be found because, irrelevant to nuclear technology’s future, the waste already exists.
Reprocessing, which recycles used fuel to lower the total waste, has not succeeded in the United States because it is highly uneconomical and dramatically increases the risk of proliferation. Commercial-scale reprocessing facilities handle so much radioactive spent fuel that it is difficult to track it in a timely matter accurately. Stolen material could go unnoticed for years. Some claim reprocessing technologies are “far more proliferation-prone than direct disposal.” The Department of Energy estimates that it would cost $40 billion to reprocess all the spent fuel in the United States – a heavy burden for taxpayers or energy users.
Finding a more permanent disposal site for nuclear waste has been challenging for governments. Yucca Mountain in Nevada, the leading proposed nuclear waste repository site, has been controversial. Concerns have been raised by environmentalists and those concerned with transporting the waste to the site, as with any domestic location, terrorist attacks. This has even caused some people to suggest the moon as a repository site, though that carries with it another collection of problems. The links in this section give different, often conflicting views on how to address the issue of nuclear waste. It will be a problematic solution, but we must ensure we do not “unduly restrict the freedom of choice of future generations.”
- Processing of Used Nuclear Fuel, October 21, 2010
- Permanent Nuclear Waste Disposal, Congressional Record, July 15, 2008
- Reprocessing – Commercial Spent Fuel Management, December 6, 2005
- Global Threat Reduction Initiative Foreign Research Reactor Spent Nuclear Fuel Shipments
- Hanford Cleanup Still Has a Long Way To Go, November 4, 2005
- EPA Poised to Regulate Nuclear Waste Disposal for a Million Years
- Ethical and Environmental Background to the Management of Waste
- Moon Seen As Nuclear Waste Repository, August 22, 2002