After decades of inaction and stalemate, there are small but significant signs that the U.S. government may finally be ready to meet its legal commitment to manage and dispose of the more than 80,000 metric tons of used nuclear fuel at 74 operating and shut-down commercial nuclear reactors sites in 35 states across the country. There is an increasing recognition that the management and disposal of used nuclear fuel is an issue that need to be addressed, particularly if nuclear power is going to have a role in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. While the debate over the fate of Yucca Mountain is primarily responsible for the current standoff, pressure for action is increasing at the local level where closed plants and what to do with the spent fuel stored on site has become a particularly hot political issue. Seven U.S. reactors were permanently closed from 2013 through 2018 and an additional 13 are set to close by 2025. There are now 21 “stranded sites” scattered across the country – closed reactor sites with no ongoing reactor operations. Moreover, the number of plant closures is expected to increase as plants age and state regulators refuse to adopt rate structures that value the type of base load power provided by nuclear reactors. Perhaps most significant obstacle is the dysfunction in our current political system. In normal times, political compromise to address the most significant current problem – the growing amounts of spent fuel at closed reactor sites around the country – should be in reach. It is time to reset U.S. policy and accept that the Yucca Mountain site is not going to be licensed and built. Legislators working in good faith should be able to resolve the funding issue, develop a fair, consent-based process for selecting a site for a long-term spent fuel repository and amend federal law to no longer hold the development of a consolidated interim storage facility hostage to that process.
The Hill 9th Dec 2019 read more »