Transnational Problems and the Need for Multinational Solutions
The nuclear waste problem in Europe and Japan quite clearly calls for multinational or international solutions. But there has been little progress as yet toward achieving such solutions beyond cooperation in research and development, some international standards-setting (as in the International Atomic Energy Agency's voluntary safety guidelines pertaining to nuclear material transport), and the now-suspended ocean dumping program for low-level waste supervised by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's Nuclear Energy Agency. No nation is going to take another nation's spent fuel or high-level waste for permanent disposal as long as the bureaucrats and politicians fear that they will be accused of allowing their country to become a nuclear dustbin.
Global or multinational solutions to the problems of spent fuel storage and disposal are needed, and needed now, as an alternative to reprocessing. The plans and commitments of European and Japanese utilities for reprocessing promise to create stocks of separated plutonium far in excess of what is needed for the early breeders or other experimental reactors. The plutonium surplus is leading to the introduction of plutonium fuel in light water reactors. This in turn will increase the risk of nuclear proliferation and terrorism for everyone and the risk of needless political troubles for the nuclear industry. In principle, reprocessing commitments could be cut back to correspond with the needs of experimental and demonstration breeders, with more spent fuel being placed in interim storage or (eventually) committed to retrievable disposal in deep geologic repositories. But the movement to large-scale commercial reprocessing appears to have gathered strong momentum, at least for the near term.
The urgency and multinational scope of the spent fuel storage and disposal problems are therefore evident. This chapter takes a broad look at the mix of spent fuel management, waste disposal, reprocessing, and