Should The U.S. Be Reprocessing Spent Nuclear Fuel?
Nuclear reprocessing. You often see it in the news, usually related to what countries are doing it and why. Reprocessing in India and China may get more ink, but the the U.K. & France do far more of it. In the United States, on the other hand, we do not currently reprocess our spent nuclear fuel. So why not? Now that many environmentalists are reevaluating nuclear power (thanks to its status as a low-carbon fuel), many are asking just that: why shouldn't we be recycling this stuff? Almost seems like the least we can do, given the complications of mining and transporting uranium, right?
Not so fast. The fellows at The Union of Concerned Scientists aren't quite so keen on reprocessing. In fact, they're actually quite...concerned about it. As scientists. In their own words, here's what their list of major concerns boils down to:
- Reprocessing would increase the risk of nuclear terrorism.
- Reprocessing would increase the ease of nuclear proliferation.
- Reprocessing would hurt U.S. nuclear waste management efforts.
- Reprocessing would be very expensive.
Very legitimate-sounding concerns, scary-sounding, even—but not everyone would agree. After all, France and Britain seem to be doing alright and they've been reprocessing for decades. To find out more about the argument for reprocessing, we talked to CEO of Duke Energy (and Beyond the Light Switch expert) Jim Rogers.
Jim Rogers knows energy. Just this past Monday he rolled out plans for a $13.7 billion megadeal that will make Duke Energy the largest electric utility in the nation. So how can he consider something that has raised such serious concerns in the past to now be no different than "recycling"? First, Rogers addressed fears that reprocessing will create a greater risk of nuclear terrorism, saying that he finds it much easier to mitigate the risk of proliferation "in the context of the U.S. setting than in the Middle East or in China or in Russia". This rationale speaks to the first two of the Scientists' aforementioned concerns—the gist of that argument being that as long as other countries are doing it, we can't afford not to (which also covers the fourth concern). Rogers tackled the third Concerned Scientists' concern regarding waste management by adding that when you do reprocess spent fuel "the amount you have to store shrinks dramatically", which could also be seen as a way of reducing the potential for terrorist threat.
So...are you sold on reprocessing? More freaked out by it than ever? Comment below to share your thoughts.