This chart from the EIA shows sources of uranium for U.S. nuclear power plants, 1950-2021. In 2020, according to the chart, 39.60 million pounds of uranium oxide was imported for the domestic nuclear power plant fleet. (Credit: Energy Information Agency)
The naturalist John Muir is widely quoted as saying, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” While he was speaking of ecology, he might as well have been talking about nuclear fuel.
At the moment, by most accounts, nuclear fuel is in crisis for a lot of reasons that weave together like a Gordian knot. Today, despite decades of assertions from nuclear energy supporters that the supply of uranium is secure and will last much longer than fossil fuels, the West is in a blind alley. We find ourselves in conflict with Russia with ominous implications for uranium, for which Russia holds about a 14 percent share of the global market, and for two processes that prepare uranium for fabrication into reactor fuel: conversion (for which Russia has a 27 percent share) and enrichment (a 39 percent share).
Using GeoMelt ICV technology to treat and immobilize problematic low-level wastes at INL and WCS.
A sample of GeoMelt glass. (Photos: Veolia)
When it comes to managing nuclear waste, technology is transforming the way some of the most problematic waste is handled. The idea to transform nuclear waste into glass was developed back in the 1970s as a way to lock away the waste’s radioactive elements and prevent them from escaping. For more than 40 years, vitrification has been used for the immobilization of high-level radioactive waste in many countries around the world, including the United States.
February 17, 2023, 3:03PMRadwaste SolutionsPeter Swift, Michael Apted, Lake Barrett, John Kessler, and Steven Nesbit
An electric continuous miner machine cuts out a waste-emplacement panel at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant salt repository in New Mexico. (Photo: DOE)
Used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive wastes are by-products of nuclear energy production and other applications of nuclear technology, and the consensus approach to disposing of those wastes safely is to encapsulate them and emplace them in stable geologic formations (geologic repositories) where they will be isolated from people and the environment for very long periods of time. The federal government has established environmental standards for waste isolation that any proposed geologic repository must meet.
In July 2021, the American Nuclear Society established a special committee to consider possibilities for revised generic environmental standards for disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste in the United States. The committee developed a number of recommendations, which are contained in a draft report that was to be issued in February for review and comment by stakeholders. The draft report can be found on the ANS website, at ans.org/policy/repositorystandard/.
The committee’s draft recommendations are based on two underlying assumptions. First, that the relevant legislative framework for regulation defined in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) remains unchanged. Specifically, it is assumed that the Environmental Protection Agency will be charged with promulgating environmental standards for disposal and that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will be charged with reviewing applications for disposal facilities using licensing requirements and criteria consistent with the EPA standards. Second, that existing generic disposal standards will be updated or replaced.
Comments due April 14 for draft report aimed at revisiting EPA regulations
LA GRANGE PARK, Illinois – Today, the American Nuclear Society (ANS) released draft recommendations on updating public health and safety standards for the permanent disposal of commercial used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste at future geological repository projects in the United States. The draft report provides a recommended framework for revisiting U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) geologic repository standards.
Front face of the B Reactor at the Hanford Site. (Photo: DOE)
In remote southeastern Washington you will find the sprawling Hanford Site, which was constructed to produce plutonium for the Manhattan Project. Within this complex is the first plutonium production reactor, the Hanford B Reactor. The DuPont Corporation was responsible for construction and operation of the B Reactor. Due to the urgency of the Manhattan Project, construction was completed in just over a year, and The B Reactor went critical on September 26, 1944. After the needs of the Manhattan Project were satisfied, the reactor was briefly shut down and then restarted to produce plutonium for roughly another 20 years, supporting Cold War efforts. In addition to plutonium production, the B Reactor also pioneered the process to produce tritium for the first-ever thermonuclear test.
The first sector of the ITER vacuum vessel was placed in the assembly pit in May. Here, a technician positions targets on the surface of the component to be used in laser metrology. (Photo: ITER Organization)
Delivery of electricity from fusion is considered by the National Academies of Engineering to be one of the grand challenges of the 21st century. The tremendous progress in fusion science and technology is underpinning efforts by nuclear experts and advocates to tackle many of the key challenges that must be addressed to construct a fusion pilot plant and make practical fusion possible.
Senate confirms Dr. Kathryn Huff as Assistant Secretary of Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy
La Grange Park, Ill. — The American Nuclear Society (ANS) welcomes the Senate’s confirmation of Dr. Kathryn Huff to be the Assistant Secretary of Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy (NE).
UCOR workers remove waste from the Alpha-2 building at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge. (Photo: DOE)
The Department of Energy recently awarded $24.7 million to Oak Ridge cleanup contractor UCOR for its work at the Oak Ridge site in Tennessee from April 2021 through October 2021, amounting to 98 percent of the available fee for the evaluation period.
The DOE and a contractor recently succeeded in disposing of Oak Ridge’s low-activity U-233, but not before recovering Th-229 from the material.
A vial containing Th-299 extracted from uranyl nitrate.
This past October, the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM) and its contractor Isotek successfully completed processing and disposing the low-dose inventory of uranium-233 stored at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), ending a two-year effort that has eliminated a portion of the site’s legacy nuclear material and provided rare nuclear isotopes for next-generation cancer treatment research.
Senate Committee hearing for considering nomination is March 17
La Grange Park, Ill. (March 14, 2022) — The American Nuclear Society (ANS) endorsed the nomination of Dr. Kathryn Huff to be the U.S. Department of Energy’s Assistant Secretary of Energy.