11/01/2013 - 09:44

A practical, regional approach to nuclear waste storage

Stephen Goldberg

Goldberg is the special assistant to the director at Argonne National Laboratory, USA, where he is actively engaged in several international...

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Robert Rosner

Rosner is the William E. Wrather distinguished service professor in the departments of Astronomy and Astrophysics...

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Nuclear power continues to offer the potential to be a major, worldwide, scalable, carbon-free energy source—if the challenges of safety, nonproliferation, waste management, and economic competitiveness are addressed. The international community has spent decades attempting to find a pragmatic approach to address waste-management concerns. Along the way, the advocates of open and closed nuclear fuel cycles have engaged in a running debate. For those who favor an open cycle, Sweden and Finland serve as excellent models today for successfully navigating both technical issues and public opinion to dispose of their spent nuclear fuel in a permanent repository that does not allow used fuel to be retrieved. But these successes have yet to be replicated elsewhere. For closed-cycle advocates, economically convincing technology solutions have yet to surface; as a result, leading reprocessing advocates claim that the future value of accumulated waste material can provide the economic justification for nuclear recycling. The authors discuss a middle-ground path that encourages research and development on advancements in fuel cycle technology while providing for safe waste storage on a century-long, or intermediate, timescale. Acknowledging the risks of pursuing such a venture, the authors also write on the importance of establishing performance metrics that would support nuclear energy as a sustainable, secure, and safe energy choice. The authors argue that the most important metric is the establishment of a surety index that could capture the nonproliferation and security risks of alternate fuel cycles.