Reprocessing - the chemical separation of uranium and plutonium from irradiated reactor fuel - is arguably the most dangerous and dirty phase of the nuclear fuel chain. Reprocessing generates huge waste streams with no management solution and isolates plutonium, the fissile component of a nuclear weapon. Countries such as England and France, where reprocessing has been carried out for decades, face a legacy of contamination and an enormous plutonium surplus vulnerable to theft or attack.


Entries by admin (27)


EU directive on "deep geologic disposal" still contains loophole for reprocessing in foreign countries

Reuters has reported that the European Union has set a deadline of 2015 for its 14 member states with nuclear power industries -- comprising a total of 143 atomic reactors -- to come up with plans for "deep geologic disposal" sites for burial of their high-level radioactive wastes. However, the EU admits it will take as long as 40 years to construct those repositories. Deutsche Welle also reported on this story, including on the loophole in the new EU directive that will still allow high-level radioactive waste exports to foreign countries for reprocessing, so long as those countries also have deep geologic repositories.


As Yucca gives up the ghost, specter of reprocessing rears its ugly head

While the court ruling on July 1st against the Yucca dump is a major environmental justice victory for the Western Shoshone Indian Nation, President Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission for America's Nuclear Future is advocating "centralized interim storage" for commercial high-level radioactive waste -- de facto permanent parking lot dumps. But consolidating irradiated nuclear fuel would make it a short step to reviving reprocessing in the U.S. for the first time since 1972. DOE's Savannah River Site, South Carolina is a top contender for a parking lot dump that could then lead to a reprocessing facility. And a number of sites in Illinois, including the Dresden nuclear power plant and adjacent, aborted General Electric reprocessing facility in Morris, were also in the running, just a few years ago, to host "centralized interim storage" and even a plutonium-extraction facility under the George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Sam Bodman "Global Nuclear Energy Partnership" attempt to revive commercial reprocessing in the U.S.


GAO confirms that parking lots dumps could easily serve as stepping stones to reprocessing

In a 2009 report comparing costs of dumping high-level radioactive wastes at Yucca Mountain versus regional "centralized interim storage" (parking lot dumps) versus very long term on-site storage at nuclear power plants (centuries), the U.S. Government Accountability Office admitted (on page 29) that "In fact, reprocessing facilities could be built near or adjacent to centralized facilities to maximize efficiencies." With President Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future advocating parking lot dumps, and Energy Secretary Chu advocating reprocessing, the risks of weapons proliferation, environmental destruction, health damage, and astronomical costs associated with reprocessing linger on.


NRC staff warn agency has cut safety corners at MOX plant

MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility on November 19, 2007 (National Nuclear Security Administration)As the Obama/Chu "Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future" continues to flirt with a "revival" of commercial reprocessing in the U.S. (as by centralizing high-level radioactive waste storage at regional parking lot dumps), safety short cuts at a weapons plutonium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility raise red flags. The supposed goal of commercial reprocessing would be to provide plutonium for just such a MOX fuel fabrication facility, but the agency mandated to protect public health, safety, the environment, and the common defense seems much more concerned about nuclear companies' construction schedules and profit margins.

Two scientists retained by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to oversee the construction of the mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication plant in South Carolina (pictured left) say the agency took safety shortcuts that seriously jeopardize the project. According to an expose by the news service, ProPublica,  first Alex Murray, the lead chemical process engineer on the NRC review team, and then his replacement, Dan Tedder, a chemical engineering professor from the Georgia Institute of Technology, called out safety problems but were either removed from the job (Murray) or resigned in frustration (Tedder).  The MOX plant is supposed to process left over plutonium pits from the U.S. atomic arsenal into commercial reactor fuel, although no U.S. reactors are designed to use MOX and the utility slated to use it - Duke - has withdrawn from the project.

According to the scientists, as reported by ProPublica: "Work on the facility was allowed to begin, they say, before some of the most essential questions were fully answered. They have been particularly concerned about the danger of chemical explosions, the adequacy of the ventilation and radioactive waste disposal systems and the way the plutonium will be tracked as it is processed."

According to Tedder, the NRC's "primary focus is staying on schedule and not doing anything to delay the applicant, rather than identifying dominant risks and safety issues.”

The NRC has a lamentable track record, called out by Beyond Nuclear staffers for years, of prioritizing industry profit motives over public safety. Needless to say, the NRC has denied the assertions of their former staffers.


Japan to reconsider reprocessing in wake of Fukushima nuclear catastrophe?

The Mainichi Daily News has quoted the head of the Japanese Communist Party as saying that Prime Minister Kan told him that as part of reviewing energy policy "from scratch," the long established policy of reprocessing high-level radioactive waste would also be reevaluated.