Managing Used Nuclear Fuel

Man inspecting the used fuel storage casks

Storage of Used Nuclear Fuel
Used nuclear fuel is a solid dry material safely stored at nuclear power plant sites. Although this material could be stored for decades at commercial nuclear plants across the nation, this storage should be considered temporary. It is one component of an integrated used fuel management system addressing all facets of storing, recycling and disposal.

Integrated Used Fuel Management
Under the integrated management approach, used nuclear fuel is stored on site at plants in steel-lined water-filled concrete pools, and above ground in massive airtight steel or concrete-and-steel dry canisters. Although the Nuclear Regulatory Commission determined used fuel could remain in safe storage at plant sites for 100 years, such storage was never intended to be permanent.  

Recycling Used Nuclear Fuel
The federal government has indicated it eventually plans to develop advanced recycling technologies to take full advantage of the vast amount of unused energy in used fuel and reduce the amount and toxicity of byproducts requiring long-term storage or disposal. Permanent storage of those byproducts and existing used fuel awaits the creation of a national repository. 

Repository Development
In 2002, Congress approved Yucca Mountain, Nev., a remote desert location, as the site for a centralized deep geologic repository for used nuclear fuel and other high-level radioactive waste. The development of this site has been placed on hold indefinitely by the Department of Energy.