ANS calls for US regulatory action on reprocessing

04 June 2020

The American Nuclear Society (ANS) has called on the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC ) to take regulatory action on reprocessing and recycling of used nuclear fuel, saying the lack of an efficient, technically robust, and technology-inclusive regulatory foundation is a barrier to innovation, especially for vendors of advanced nuclear reactors.

The West Valley Demonstration Project site in New York state was home to a reprocessing plant for civil nuclear fuel, which operated from 1966 to 1972 (Image: DOE West Valley Demonstration Project)

In a letter to the NRC, ANS Executive Director and CEO Craig Piercy has urged the regulator to resume a proposed rulemaking for reprocessing.

"Completing the reprocessing rulemaking would support future options for, and potential innovations toward, used fuel management as well as clean energy generation using advanced reactors," Piercy told the NRC. "While no new reprocessing facilities are planned in the United States at this time, this in itself should not be the rationale for suspending rulemaking."

The ANS recognises that a once-through fuel cycle may be the most cost-effective path for the USA's light water reactor fleet in the near term, Piercy said. "However, in the long term, with nuclear energy providing a significant fraction of US electricity production, waste minimisation via recycling will likely be warranted. Also, many advanced reactor systems currently under development are specifically designed to take advantage of the energy value that exists in our current reserves of used nuclear fuel."

The letter is in line with ANS Position Statement #45, which supports the recycling of used nuclear fuel and recognises that recycling, or the combination of reprocessing and fuel fabrication, has the potential to significantly enhance uranium resource utilisation and to minimise the volume and toxicity of radioactive waste requiring disposal in a geologic repository.

Reprocessing of used fuel from commercial reactors has been prohibited in the USA since 1977, with all used fuel being treated as high-level waste. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 established federal responsibility for all civil used fuel, but although the legislation was amended in 1987 to designate a site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada for a final repository, such a facility has yet to be provided.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News