The case against reprocessing

Frank von Hippel, a physicist and professor of public and international affairs at Princeton, has an op ed in the LA Times arguing against reprocessing spent nuclear fuel. The simple case for reprocessing is that it reuses much of the spent nuclear fuel that we in the U.S. consider waste (and were, until recently, planning to store at Yucca Mountain). There is a catchy sound byte I can't find that says something like all of France's nuclear waste is stored in a warehouse the size of X (not very big).

Unfortunately, it is not so simple. (To be fair, the media has pointed this out before, e.g. in this NYT piece on reprocessing from May). But von Hippel brings true expertise to the table, so his articulation of the objections is worth citing (subtitles are mine).
Cost: "Based on French and Japanese experience, the cost of producing this recycled fuel is several times that of producing fresh uranium reactor fuel."
Waste volume (not actually reduced): "The French reprocessing company AREVA claims that its method reduces the volume and longevity of the radioactive waste produced by nuclear power reactors. But when you take into account the additional radioactive waste streams created by reprocessing and plutonium recycling, the volume of the long-lived radioactive waste is not reduced."
Radioactivity: "Reprocessing is enormously dangerous. The amount of radioactivity in the liquid waste stored at France's plant is more than 100 times that released by the Chernobyl accident. That is why France's government set up antiaircraft missile batteries around its reprocessing plant after the 9/11 attacks."
Plutonium: "Even more dangerous, however, is the fact that reprocessing provides access to plutonium, a nuclear weapon material. That is why the U.S. turned against it after 1974, the year India used the first plutonium separated with U.S.-provided reprocessing for a nuclear explosion."
von Hippel favors eventually storing waste in a long-term storage like Yucca Mountain (except perhaps one in a community which already has a nuclear plant, for easier acceptance, as successfully done in Finland and Sweden). In the meantime, he thinks we should sit on the current dry cask storage, rather than "panic" and take the "very expensive and dangerous detour" of reprocessing.

His arguments have something for everyone - cost for businessmen and economists, waste volume for the environment, radioactivity for human health and plutonium for security hawks. In particular I think the high cost of reprocessing is not well-known and deserves to be mentioned more prominently in a balanced debate.

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