Wed., June 22, 2011 5:16pm (EDT)

U.S. Considers Private Nuclear Fuel Reuse
By Noel Brown
Updated: 3 years ago

AUGUSTA, Ga.  —  
Nuclear plants like Georgia's Plant Votgel one day could have more options for disposing the tons of spent reactor fuel they create. Federal regulators are considering letting private companies recycle the fuel.
Nuclear plants like Georgia's Plant Votgel one day could have more options for disposing the tons of spent reactor fuel they create. Federal regulators are considering letting private companies recycle the fuel.
Members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Augusta Wednesday took public comment in an early effort to draft licensing rules for commercial reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.

The process involves using uranium left over from nuclear fission to make new reactor fuel.

It’s widely done in other countries but not in the U.S.

NRC spokesman Roger Hannah says reprocessing spent fuel could help ease the nation’s nuclear waste problem but won’t get rid of it.

"There would still be a nuclear waste issue that needs to be addressed because even with reprocessing there would be additional waste involved in that waste stream."

Environmentalists attending the meeting said reprocessing actually adds to the thousands of tons of waste stored at nuclear power plants.

Georgia has two: Plant Vogtle near Augusta and Plant Hatch near Baxley.

Officials from the French nuclear giant AREVA were also there.

They are interested in building reprocessing facilities in the U.S.

The company is already investing billions of dollars building a plant at the Savannah River Site near Augusta that will turn nuclear bombs into reactor fuel.

But no utilities have stepped up to use the Mixed Oxide or MOX fuel in their reactors.

Susanne Rhodes of the League of Women Voters told the panel commercial reprocessing could pose a similar problem.

"I think there ought to be serious discussions with the industry and maybe there already has but I don’t want it to turn out like another MOX where it’s a party where nobody wants to come."

Some environmentalists say fuel made from reprocessing isn’t as stable as traditional fuel and it has yet to be successfully tested in any U.S. reactors.

Increased interest in reprocessing could be linked to public fears about the safety of spent fuel stored in pools at nuclear plants.

Many of the ongoing troubles surrounding Japan's stricken Fukushima reactors have been caused by problems with spent fuel storage.