Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing – “exploding” in France, banned in the U.S.
On Monday, the explosion of a furnace in a nuclear reprocessing plant in southern France killed at least one person and injured four. This incident also raised concerns that nuclear material could have been released. However, according to Phillipe Renaud, head of the laboratory at the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), no contamination has been detected.
Nuclear reprocessing can be applied in order to recover usable fuel from previously used nuclear material. This process can help to minimize the volume of the radioactive waste stream that came from the world’s nuclear power plants. However, this process does not reduce the radioactivity of this waste and so does not eliminate the need for long-term waste storage solutions.
Due in part to concerns including nuclear proliferation and terrorism, the United States does not use nuclear reprocessing technology. On April 7, 1977 President Jimmy Carter announced his Executive Order that banned the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel – fuel that had already been used once within the U.S. nuclear power plant fleet. This created an open loop system for nuclear fuel that remains controversial today.
Robynne Boyd, with Scientific American, recently put up a post about “Closing the Gaping Hole in the Nuclear Fuel Cycle” that focuses on several ways that the United States might handle its growing pile of nuclear waste – including through reprocessing.
[This post was originally published on 9/13/2011 on Culture of Science]