In the nuclear energy industry, safety is first and foremost in everything that we do. Those of us who work in the industry are dedicated to ensuring the safety of the communities where we live and work for generations to come. That commitment includes creating a safe future for used nuclear fuel in the United States.
With its recent environmental impact study, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission confirmed that used nuclear fuel can be safely stored on the site of a nuclear power plant if it is properly managed. Ultimately, that means utilities can now work to build new power plants and extend the operating licenses of their existing plants without having to wait for the U.S. Department of Energy to establish a permanent disposal facility, such as Yucca Mountain, for the used fuel.
The NRC’s findings are good news for North Carolina. According to the Energy Information Administration, North Carolina ranked sixth in the United States in net electricity generation from nuclear energy in 2013, accounting for 5.1 percent of the nation’s total. There are five reactors in the state that produce one-third of the state’s electricity and 85 percent of its emissions-free electricity, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.
When it comes to used nuclear fuel, the challenges facing the industry today are not technical. We have proven ways of safely storing used nuclear fuel on the site of power plants. Instead, the challenges relate to the political aspects of responsible used nuclear fuel management, namely, maintaining the full range of sustainable options, including recycling.
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If recycled, the amount of used nuclear fuel stored at U.S. plant sites today could power the entire U.S. reactor fleet for six years. Nearly every industrialized nation with a proactive used nuclear fuel management strategy recycles using proven technology supported by decades of research, development and demonstration.
Promisingly, DOE has awarded grants to several major U.S. universities, including the University of South Carolina and Georgia Tech, to research even more effective ways to store used nuclear fuel before it is disposed of in an eventual repository or recycled as fuel for next-generation reactors. This signifies the long-term investments being made to support the safe storage of used nuclear fuel.
Nuclear energy holds great promise to meet our energy needs while preserving the environment for future generations. The only key component missing in the U.S. equation for responsible used nuclear fuel management is recycling, which is a global, proven solution.
With the industry’s commitment to upholding safety as its top priority and the NRC’s decision on the safe storage of used nuclear fuel, North Carolinians and people across the country can be confident in the safe, secure and effective management of used nuclear fuel.