The idea of “reprocessing” spent nuclear fuel has repeatedly been beaten to death in the United States, but its advocates keep trying to bring it back to life. Part of the latest attempt to animate this corpse is Michigan State Senate Resolution 164 of 2016.
Nuclear reprocessing technology was developed to chemically separate and recover fissionable plutonium from irradiated nuclear fuel. the plutonium can be used in nuclear weapons or in Mixed OXide (MOX) reactor fuel. (Reprocessed uranium, which constitutes the bulk of the spent fuel material, can in principle also be re-used as fuel, but that’s only economic when uranium prices are high.)
Advocates of reprocessing will trumpet the fact that it reduces the volume of high-level waste. That’s true, as far as it goes. They generally fail to mention that it does nothing to recuce the amount of radioactivity or heat generation in the waste, it just makes it more concentrated. That is, it makes the reduced volume of waste “hotter” per unit of volume. The basic problem of safe disposal of nuclear waste in NOT solved by reprocessing. In terms of creating a stockpile of plutonium which is subject to accidents (Tomsk , Tokaimura) in the process and a target for terrorists, it makes the problem worse.
The wording of the resolution comes from the Michigan Legislature website:
Apr 19, 2016 — REFERRED TO COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND TECHNOLOGY
Apr 19, 2016 — RULES SUSPENDED
Apr 19, 2016 — INTRODUCED BY SENATOR JOHN PROOS
Senators Proos, Colbeck, Booher, Nofs, Hansen, Brandenburg, Horn, Schmidt, Emmons, Zorn, Shirkey and Marleau offered the following resolution:
Senate Resolution No. 164.
A resolution to urge the President and Congress of the United States to explore and support policies that will lead to the establishment of facilities within the United States for the reprocessing and recycling of spent nuclear fuel.
Whereas, The federal Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 called for the United States Department of Energy to begin collecting spent nuclear waste and develop a long-term plan for storage of the material. In 2002, Congress approved Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the location to allow the Department of Energy to establish a safe repository for high-level spent nuclear waste; and
Whereas, In 2010, the Department of Energy halted the project at Yucca Mountain when the construction authorization process was in progress, despite the Nuclear Waste Fund receiving more than $30 billion in revenue from electric customers throughout the United States in order to construct the facility and store the spent fuel; and
Whereas, The Argonne National Laboratory has developed a high-temperature method of recycling spent nuclear waste into fuel, known as pyrochemical processing. This process allows 100 times more of the energy in uranium ore to be used to produce electricity compared to current commercial reactors; and
Whereas, Extending the productive life of uranium ore through pyrochemical processing ensures almost inexhaustible supplies of low-cost uranium resources for the generation of electricity, minimizes the risk that used fuel could be stolen and used to produce weapons, and reduces the amount of nuclear waste and the time it must be isolated by almost 1,000 times; and
Whereas, Advanced non-light water reactors currently under development in the United States and internationally have the potential to utilize used fuel from existing reactors as fuel, but according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, there are no reprocessing facilities currently operating within the United States; and
Whereas, The federal government’s inability to adequately store or reprocess almost 100,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel has adversely affected the residents of the state of Michigan. Michigan has paid more than $800 million into the Nuclear Waste Fund since 1983, but the federal government has failed to use it to permanently store nuclear waste in a way that serves the public; now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the Senate, That we urge the President and Congress of the United States to explore and support policies that will lead to the establishment of facilities within the United States for the reprocessing and recycling of spent nuclear fuel; and be it further
Resolved, That copies of this resolution be transmitted to the President of the United States, the President of the United States Senate, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, and the members of the Michigan congressional delegation.
If this bad idea disturbs you, please contact your State Senator and State Representative and tell them so. Down at the bottom of the Michigan Legislature website, you’ll find links to contact your Senator and contact your Representative.