U.S. Department of Energy data indicates that the spent nuclear fuel discharged and stored by the electric power industry totals close to 85,000 metric tons over the past five-plus decades.
The Energy Information Administration’s Nuclear Fuel Data Survey released this week shows that amount of spent fuel from U.S. nuclear power plants has risen close to 13,000 metric tons in the past eight years. The EIA’s report shows that the total was about 79,825 metric tons as of 2017.
Spent fuel from pressurized water reactors accounted for almost two-thirds of that tonnage, while boiling water reactors produced the remainder of nuclear waste.
The United States has 94 nuclear reactors producing close to 20 percent of the nation’s total electricity generated, according to reports. Nuclear does not produce carbon emissions, but spent fuel must be replaced during scheduled maintenance and refueling outages every 18 months or so.
Radioactive nuclear waste is a major environmental concern for many Americans. That waste, which stays potentially dangerous and must be contained at all costs, is stored mainly on sites near or on the power plant properties, although many industry experts have called for a permanent depository.
A March 2020 “Fast Facts about Spent Nuclear Fuel” indicates that U.S. power plants produce close to 2,000 metric tons of solid spent fuel per year. By contrast, the U.S. emits more than 5 billion metric tons of energy-related carbon dioxide per year, according to the EIA.
Where to put all this spent fuel waste? The 83,000 metric tons of used nuclear fuel generated since the 1950s could fit within a single football field at a depth of less than 10 years, according to the Energy Department.
Although several nuclear power plants have been or are planned for retirement, Georgia Power’s Vogtle Units 3 and 4 expansion is under construction and expecting to be commercial operational over the next two years.
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