I love it how so many people like to frame this argument as if nuclear industry has no idea on how to solve this problem, even though theres literally a federal bill that PROMISED the nuclear industry a solution to waste management. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 set up a system that forced nuclear reactors to pay for Yucca Mountain Deep Geological Depository. Under this act the federal government bears legal responsibility for long term nuclear waste, and yet the nuclear industry has paid out $31 billion over 40 years for a plan that the federal government promised but then refused. This is not an issue for nuclear energy, its an issue for the government. If it wasn’t illegal, the nuclear industry should’ve absolutely sued the federal government for fraud.
The only reason these reactors are having to store excess waste on site, is because the federal government lied about solutions for nuclear waste, but honestly that’s not even the worst concept.
Even though the federal government promised responsibility for a solution for nuclear waste under a legally binding congressionally supported act and essentially stole $31 billion from an industry and then required them to take on excess cost, because they failed to actually follow their own laws, the worst of it is that the nuclear industry actually has new solutions, but its so ridiculously difficult to advocate for dramatic nuclear policy change that congress has NEVER ONCE talked about these solutions.
Heres a solution:
Lets look at solutions by other countries and more specifically the EU. A major solution is reprocessing nuclear fuel from nuclear waste, so that it can be reused. The USA actually used to have reprocessing, until it was banned by the federal government in 1977 for “weapons proliferation concerns”. This is super interesting considering the fact that there is zero evidence that nuclear energy for commercial use has ever increased weapons proliferation. Literally never happened, but the federal government banned it and then made it so expensive that the commercial industry in the USA has zero reprocessing capability. Yet every time a nuclear lobbyist attempts to even mention reprocessing we hear all about completely unsubstantiated nuclear proliferation concerns.
Heres a solution:
96% of all high level nuclear waste by volume is made of Uranium 238. This isotope has a 4.5 billion year half life, so why did Yucca Mountain have to be rated for 10,000 years? That’s ridiculously higher than all spent fuel waste (300 years max decay) and ridiculously lower than the decay rate of the most radioactive material by volume (40+ billion year decay).
Uranium 238 is fertile fuel isotope, which means that it can become a fissile isotope through a process called breeding. Breeding forces U-238 to absorb neutrons so that it transmutes into U-239. U-239 has about a 20 minute decay rate and will decay into Np-239 with about a 2 day decay. After 2 days Np-239 decays into Pu-239. Pu-239 is a fissile fuel for nuclear reactors. Most conventional nuclear reactors actually currently do this, because enrichment is so low, but there is a lower probability of breeding and eventual fission than in actual breeder reactors.
But wait second this doesn’t actually decrease waste as youre just making Pu-239?
Yes that’s correct, except that with U-238 you have to wait 4.5 billion years for one decay, and with Pu-239 you have to wait 24,400 years for one decay. Breeding greatly reduces the decay rate, which means that over time you will reduce the volume of waste faster. Now 24,400 years is still a really long time, but breeder reactors are made to breed fertile fuel to fissile fuel and then fission it. Since we are breeding Pu-239 we will then fission it most likely in a fast reactor. The most common fission products of Pu-239 are Xenon 134, which is stable and Zirconium 103 which has a 1.2 second half life. The combination of breeding and fission can change the decay rate from 4 billion years to a little over 1 year.
So this must be super advanced future technology that the USA can never afford right? Um well actually the first nuclear reactor used for electrical generator was in fact a fast breeder reactor in 1952 called the EBR-1. Since that time the USA has developed over 7 other types of breeder reactors, and yet when the senate committee questioned Rick Perry about his plans for advanced nuclear technology they NEVER ONCE brought up breeder reactors, fast reactors or waste management.
This is not an issue of the technology, as the technology has a history of being developed in the past both for fast breeding and reprocessing. This is an issue of politics, where industry is so tied to the government that its impossible to currently move forward without government cooperation. Nuclear is by far the most harmed industry by this factor. There are reasons why nuclear has major issues with cost other than the government, but when the federal government makes you pay for solutions that never actually come, then require you to take on more costs that was promised never to be your burden, and now is formidable in waste management progression these incurred costs are politically driven bullsh!t.