Hi there. I'm currently writing a thesis on geological disposal of nuclear waste and was wondering, seeing as you work in the industry, how do you manage nuclear waste materials on site? I understand the US were developing a facility in the Yucca Mountain but I'm not sure if it is operational. I don't know if you get involved in that side of things as a reactor operator but would appreciate any info! Thanks.
Because there isn’t a national radioactive waste storage facility, power plants store spent fuel first in spent fuel pools, usually for a period of 10 years (spent fuel is usually kept in spent fuel pools for at least 5 years; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has authorized transfer as early as 3 years but the norm in the industry is 10 years), and once it’s determined the fuel is no longer producing enough decay heat to begin a chain reaction in close quarters with other fuel assemblies, several assemblies are placed in dry cask storage. The casks are usually steel cylinders and are surrounded by additional steel, concrete or some other material to provide radiation shielding to employees and to members of the public.
Casks can either remain vertical
or they can be designed to store fuel horizontally in an above-ground concrete bunker (below).
On average, 2-6 dozen fuel assemblies (depending on the type of assembly) can be stored in one cask. Water and air are removed and it’s filled with an inert gas, then welded or bolted shut. The casks typically remain onsite but can be transported to independent fuel storage installations, located across the country.
Unfortunately, the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository has been defunded, despite being designated in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which established a comprehensive national program for the safe and permanent disposal of highly radioactive waste. The Department of Energy was assigned responsibility to locate, construct and operate a repository for permanent disposal of highly radioactive waste, the Environmental Protection Agency was to set public health and safety standards for releases of radioactive waste from a repository, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was required to publicize their regulations for construction, operation and closure of a permanent repository.
In 2010, the Obama administration rejected the use of the site for waste storage in the federal budget, which eliminated all funding. Following this decision, several lawsuits were proposed or being filed in various federal courts to challenge the legality of the decision to have the Department of Energy withdraw the license for the site and are generally viewed as necessary to enforce the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, as Section 119 allows for federal court intervention if the President, Secretary of Energy or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission fail to uphold the act.