Failure to pursue a program for recycling spent nuclear fuel has put the U.S. far behind other countries and represents a missed opportunity to enhance the nation’s energy security and influence other countries, the former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said.
Dale Klein, Ph.D., Associate Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Texas System, said largely unfounded concerns and “long-held myths” about the reprocessing of spent fuel have prevented the U.S. from tapping into an extremely valuable resource.
Spent nuclear fuel, which includes some plutonium, often is inaccurately referred to as waste, Klein said.
“It is not waste,” he said. “The waste is in our failure to tap into this valuable and abundant domestic source of clean energy in a systematic way. That’s something we can ill-afford to do.”
Klein, who also serves as an associate director at UT Austin’s Energy Institute, made his remarks February 20 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) annual meeting, in Washington, D.C.
Compared to other fuels used in the production of electricity, the energy density of uranium is remarkable, Klein said, noting that 95 percent of the energy value in a bundle of spent nuclear fuel rods remains available to be re-used.
“The once-through nuclear fuel cycle, which is our practice in the U.S., is an enormous waste of potential energy,” he said.
Critics cite the potential for nuclear weapons proliferation as the biggest reason to oppose recycling. But such concerns are largely unfounded, Klein said.