Tag Archives: US Department of Energy

From Germany to South Carolina: Nuclear Waste

castor cask

The U.S. Department of Energy said on June 4, 2014 it will study the environmental risk of importing spent nuclear fuel from Germany that contains highly enriched uranium, a move believed to be the first for the United States.  The department said it is considering a plan to ship the nuclear waste from Germany to the Savannah River Site, a federal facility in South Carolina.  The 310-acre site already holds millions of gallons of high-level nuclear waste in tanks. The waste came from reactors in South Carolina that produced plutonium for nuclear weapons from 1953 to 1989.

The Energy Department said it wants to remove 900 kilograms (1,984 pounds) of uranium the United States sold to Germany years ago and render it safe under U.S. nuclear non-proliferation treaties.  A technique for the three-year process of extracting the uranium, which is contained in graphite balls, is being developed at the site in South Carolina, according to the Energy Department.

[The radioactive waste to be imported to the United States from Germany consists of 152 30-tonne CASTOR casks containing 290,000 graphite balls from the  AVR gas-cooled prototype reactor, stored at the Juelich research center [Forschungszentrum Jülich (FZJ)], and 305 CASTOR casks containing 605,000 graphite balls from the THTR-300 reactor, stored at the Ahaus waste site. While the waste contains some US-origin highly enriched uranium (HEU), the amount is unclear as the material was irradiated and has been in storage for over 20 years since the reactors closed.]

Some critics question whether the department has fully developed a clear plan to dispose of the radioactive waste.”They’re proposing to extract the uranium and reuse it as fuel by a process that has never been done before,” said Tom Clements, president of SRS Watch, a nuclear watchdog group in South Carolina….

Sources told Reuters in May that German utilities were in talks with the government about setting up a “bad bank” for nuclear plants, in response to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to close them all by 2022 after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Excerpt from  Harriet McLeod, German nuclear waste may be headed to South Carolina site, Reuters, June 4, 2014

Nuclear Power Alive with Assured Fuel Supply

As part of the Obama Administration’s commitment to strengthen global nuclear nonproliferation efforts, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) today announced the availability of a reserve stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) for use as commercial nuclear power fuel. The stockpile was derived from down-blending surplus highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the U.S. stockpile.

This new American Assured Fuel Supply (AFS) creates a vehicle for promoting the peaceful use of nuclear energy without exacerbating nuclear proliferation risks. Through this plan, the U.S. is able to encourage wider use of nuclear power production at the same time as it meets U.S. nuclear disarmament obligations.

The AFS sets aside LEU down-blended from surplus U.S. weapons HEU to serve as a backup fuel supply for foreign or domestic reactors in the event of a supply disruption. Along with the International Fuel Bank to be administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the AFS gives nation states that are looking to nuclear power as a clean energy source an assured supply of LEU, decreasing the need to develop costly enrichment technology. Establishing this reserve will put confidence in the U.S. as a reliable supplier of nuclear fuel and should encourage other governments to see American nuclear vendors as preferable partners.

“As more countries look to nuclear power as a low-carbon option for addressing growing energy demands, assuring a fuel supply without promoting proliferation sensitive technologies is a critical national security priority,” said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. “In addition to protecting fuel supplies for commercial power producers, the Assured Fuel Supply helps demonstrate our commitment to nuclear nonproliferation by eliminating surplus weapons uranium in a way that promotes the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”

In 2005, the Department of Energy announced that the U.S. would set aside 17.4 metric tons of surplus HEU to be blended-down to LEU and held in reserve to deal with disruptions in the nuclear fuel supply. The down-blending of the 17.4 metric tons of surplus HEU is scheduled for completion in 2012. When complete, it will result in approximately 290 metric tons of LEU, of which approximately 230 metric tons will form the reserve. The remainder of the LEU is being used to pay for the down-blending and processing costs. This will leave the AFS with approximately six reloads for an average 1,000 MW reactor.

The AFS reserve is modest in size and designed not to disrupt or replace market mechanisms. Rather, it is to be sold at market value in the event of demonstrated need after all other market options are exhausted.  DOE published an announcement of the availability of the AFS today in the Federal Register. The AFS will be available through U.S. persons to both domestic and foreign recipients. The Secretary of Energy will approve any AFS sale and have the authority to prioritize requests.

The NNSA’s Office of Nonproliferation and International Security will chair an AFS Committee that will be responsible for assessing eligibility of applicants and making a recommendation to the Secretary on the sale of LEU from the AFS. This Committee will include representatives from several different DOE offices, including DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, DOE’s Office of Environmental Management, and the DOE and NNSA Offices of General Counsel.

Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science in the nation’s national security enterprise. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability, and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; reduces the global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.

DOE, NNSA Announce Availability of Reserve Stockpile of Nuclear Power Reactor Fuel Material from Down-blending of Surplus Weapons-Usable Uranium, Press Release, Aug 18, 2011