will develop unless all of the 3,500 tons of annual reprocessing capacity now planned is in service by the early 1990s, and unless operating efficiency is at much higher levels than that yet achieved by commercial reprocessing plants.
Furthermore, with an annual generation of about 6,500 tons beyond the year 2000 (assuming that total installed nuclear capacity remains steady at about 192 gigawatts), the backlog will grow steadily larger unless reprocessing capacity is greatly expanded. But even if reprocessing capacity were doubled to 7,000 tons a year by the turn of the century, and even if reprocessing operated at 75 percent efficiency over the following two decades, the backlog by the year 2020 would be on the order of 75,000 tons.70 The actual accumulation, barring an abrupt reversal in the fortunes of nuclear power, is likely to be larger than that. The reprocessors seem destined to be players in a game of catch-up in which they remain hopelessly behind. Moreover, the production facilities that are supposed to be completed at La Hague, Windscale, and elsewhere over the next decade may turn out to be one-time commitments to undertakings that are not economically sustainable.
For the nuclear industry the growing backlog of spent fuel could well become both an economic nuisance and a political embarrassment. By the turn of the century the nuclear power industry, in the interest of gaining greater public trust, may have to begin the deep geologic disposal of some spent fuel and high-level waste to demonstrate that custodial care will not be forever necessary. At hard-rock sites the fuel could be emplaced retrievably for a period of 50 to 100 years, if not longer, thus leaving the reprocessing and plutonium recovery option open as a hedge against the possibility that the breeder will some day be both needed and practicable. At the same time, the fuel could be removed should the repository site in the end be found unacceptable. But this brings us back to our starting point, for no geologic disposal site has yet been found and certified as clearly acceptable. And for a number of nations the best solution, if not the only solution, will lie in multinational or international repositories, of which today there are none in sight.
To sum up, an international system of spent fuel and waste management is still very much needed, but despite a few encouraging signs is still____________________