US government seeks new sites for nuclear-waste storage via Nature

Department of Energy pursues interim plan for commercial fuel and permanent location for defence waste.


The DOE’s new plan has the department pursuing a two-pronged approach to handling nuclear waste. A 24 March decision by US president Barack Obama allows the DOE to put defence-related waste — roughly 5% of the total — in a different repository from commercial reactor waste. The move reverses a policy that former president Ronald Reagan put in place in 1985, which directed the two types of waste to be stored together.

Moniz says that Obama’s decision will allow the DOE to identify different solutions for different types of defence waste: waste that is stabilized in glass logs could be placed in a more traditional underground repository, while other types of waste could be packaged and buried in deep boreholes. The DOE’s fiscal-year 2016 budget proposal includes money for a deep-borehole experiment along those lines.


Under current law, the DOE is responsible for nuclear waste generated by electric utilities. The department has already paid out US$4 billion for failing to meet its obligation to remove waste that is now building up at nuclear power plants. It could be forced to shell out up to $23 billion more over the next 50 years if the issue isn’t resolved, Moniz said.

“Twenty-seven billion dollars goes a long way toward building a facility,” he said. “We need to move the fuel.”

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