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See Inside May 2008

Nuclear Fuel Recycling: More Trouble Than It's Worth

Plans are afoot to reuse spent reactor fuel in the U.S. But the advantages of the scheme pale in comparison with its dangers

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Although a dozen years have elapsed since any new nuclear power reactor has come online in the U.S., there are now stirrings of a nuclear renaissance. The incentives are certainly in place: the costs of natural gas and oil have skyrocketed; the public increasingly objects to the greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels; and the federal government has offered up to $8 billion in subsidies and insurance against delays in licensing (with new laws to streamline the process) and $18.5 billion in loan guarantees. What more could the moribund nuclear power industry possibly want?

Just one thing: a place to ship its used reactor fuel. Indeed, the lack of a disposal site remains a dark cloud hanging over the entire enterprise. The projected opening of a federal waste storage repository in Yucca Mountain in Nevada (now anticipated for 2017 at the earliest) has already slipped by two decades, and the cooling pools holding spent fuel at the nation’s nuclear power plants are running out of space.

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