The Legal Problems of Spent Nuclear Fuel Disposal

By Helton, Scott R. | Energy Law Journal, January 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

The Legal Problems of Spent Nuclear Fuel Disposal


Helton, Scott R., Energy Law Journal


COMMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

The United States nuclear power industry produced 753.9 billion kWh of electricity in 2000.(1) This made up almost 20% of all energy consumed in the United States that year.2 The U.S. nuclear power industry also produced about 2,000 metric tons of extremely hot, highly radioactive Spent Nuclear Fuel (SNF), which added to the approximately 40,000 metric tons already produced through 1999.(3) The question of what to do with this waste has plagued state and federal authorities since the nuclear industry began in the 1950's, and will continue for tens of thousands of years until a solution is found.4 The federal government addressed this issue when it passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act in 1982.(5) Lawmakers concluded that it was the responsibility of the federal government to take and dispose of the SNF at the expense of the various utilities.6 For several years the Utilities poured billions of dollars into this program and maintained smaller onsite storage facilities believing their waste would be transported away in the not-to-distant future, but almost four years after the date disposal was supposed to begin, no SNF has been moved from the Utilities' on-site storage.7

As the SNF disposal program became increasingly behind schedule, the Utilities' problems began to compound. As SNF began to fill up small storage facilities, the Utilities began to realize that at a certain date in the near future their plants would produce more waste than could legally be stored in their facilities, thus forcing the power generation to be halted.8 IMAGE FORMULA4

They also began to wonder if their multi-billion dollar investment into the disposal program would ever pay off. These fears caused the Utilities to file suit against the Department of Energy (DOE). The solution to the question of what to do with SNF is more complicated now than before 1982.(9) The Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) is more than a decade behind schedule and the probable results of the Utilities' lawsuits will create more problems than they solve.

A. Spent Nuclear Fuel

SNF is the byproduct of a controlled nuclear reaction that takes place in a nuclear power plant. Nuclear plants operate by splitting atoms, which causes a great deal of heat.10 Water is pumped through the reactor core to be heated, and then released as steam into a turbine, thus creating electricity. "The fresh fuel rod, which emits relatively little radioactivity, contains uranium that has been slightly enriched in the isotope U-235."11 Eventually, after several years of producing heat, the rods begin to decay and must be removed. By this point, they become very hot and highly radioactive.12 The process of decay comes about:

[a]fter nuclear fission has taken place in the reactor, many of the uranium atoms in the fuel rods have been split into a variety of highly radioactive fission products; others have absorbed neutrons to become radioactive plutonium, some of which has also split into fission products. Radioactive gases are also contained in the spent fuel rods.13

This process creates a product that is extremely hot and "remains dangerously radioactive for tens of thousands of years."14 After these rods are withdrawn from the reactor, they are stored in on-site pools of water to contain radiation and to keep them from overheating.15

The amount of waste stored in these on-site pools has been growing for a number of years.16 The typical large commercial nuclear reactor produces about twenty to thirty metric tons of SNF a year.17 U.S. reactors produce about 2,000 metric tons annually.18 Approximately 40,000 metric tons of SNF is currently stored on-site at seventy plants around the nation.19 "As a result, the total amount of [SNF] is expected to reach 60,000 IMAGE FORMULA10

metric tons by 2010... and almost 80,000 metric tons by 2020. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Legal Problems of Spent Nuclear Fuel Disposal
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.