The United States could alleviate growing stockpiles of nuclear waste at power plants by allowing private companies to dispose of it and foster support for new nuclear projects, US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz says.
The US government spent billions of dollars on the Yucca Mountain project in Nevada that was supposed to store nuclear waste permanently underground, but politicians from the state opposed the project, leading to its cancellation in 2010.
The waste is now mostly held at power plants in dry cask storage or in spent fuel pools, said Moniz, a nuclear physicist who has run the department since 2013.
The US could start transferring that waste to interim sites, potentially including government and private disposal sites, in the middle of the next decade until a permanent solution is developed.
“We would like to have the authority for publicly owned and operated (storage) facilities. We are also very much interested in the possibility of pursuing private storage,” Moniz said in an interview about the nuclear issues the next administration will face after President Barack Obama leaves office.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission received an application earlier this year from Waste Control Specialists, part of Valhi to store waste at a site in Texas. More companies may also apply.
Another thorny issue on nuclear waste has been an agreement with Russia to convert plutonium left over from the Cold War to nuclear plant fuel. Under the deal struck in 2000, each country is expected to convert 34 tons of the material into fuel pellets.
The federal government has spent about $US5 billion on a plant in South Carolina and associated facilities that would convert the material into MOX, or mixed-oxide pellets for reactors. But cost estimates for the project have soared, and now Moniz says the MOX method would cost up to $US50 billion over 50 years.
He wants the country to consider simply diluting the plutonium with inert materials and disposing the mix deep underground, such has been done for other nuclear materials in New Mexico.
Read more at Companies may ease nuclear waste backlog
This is how the radioactive materials spilled in St. Louis, MO. Companies come and go, which makes it hard to trace each one’s responsibilities for unattended nuclear waste, while the central government, relatively speaking, is held accountable for a longer term. The government is also the one that cleans up the contaminated area, in case of leakage, while corporations, often after relocation or dissolution, avoid bearing liability.