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Disposing of nuclear waste via Frontline

This file photograph shows miners taking geological samples from the Gorleben salt mine in Germany to test whether the location is suitable for storing nuclear waste.

On January 10, United States Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu announced a new waste disposal strategy for the country. The strategy includes a “pilot interim store” that will become operational in 2021, with the focus on taking used nuclear fuel from currently shutdown power plant sites. By 2025, a larger “full-scale interim store” will open, and an underground disposal facility is planned to be established by 2048 to permanently dispose of the material. The facilities could be co-located in any combination or sited separately. There could even be more than one underground disposal site.

The schedule is meant to reduce the growth of the government’s liabilities under the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, under which it was to begin taking spent reactor fuel from power companies in 1998. About 68,000 tonnes of used reactor fuel remains at 72 different power plant sites across the country, with the Department of Energy (DoE) reimbursing power companies the cost. The current production rate of spent fuel is 2,000 tonnes a year. The two interim facilities will accept used reactor fuel at a rate faster than this in order to reduce gradually the inventory at power companies.

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