The Wall Street Journal recently published a special report on the U.S.’s most pressing energy concerns with industry analysts offering differing solutions.
One of the issues addressed was how to deal with the country’s used nuclear fuel. In what has been an ongoing national policy issue since the early 1980’s, the pressing question of “how to manage the country’s used nuclear fuel” under a consolidated management approach still remains. In 1982, it was decided that used fuel, after one cycle through a power plant, was to be stored deep underground, and in 1987, Yucca Mountain was determined to be the location. In 2010, the Obama administration eliminated funding to Yucca, and the site was shut down.
Today, used fuel from nuclear power plants is typically stored at plant sites. While the 104 nuclear power plants in the U.S. have been operating for decades, the volume of used fuel is not great, due to the production efficiency of nuclear fuel. Here at home, Entergy’s Grand Gulf plant currently stores used fuel onsite like most other sites. Some say all the used fuel stored at plants today would amount to a 15 ft. high stack covering one football field.
The consolidated management approach decided three decades ago remains the right policy today, but we should consider a change in policy around the fuel cycle. The “once through” fuel cycle adopted decades ago results in leaving about 90% of the energy value in the fuel source, so the used fuel stored around the country represents enormous energy value. Technology development now allows for more complete utilization of nuclear fuel and should be available as part of a fuel disposal strategy. Options include recycling and new reactor technology. Flexibility in policy to allow utilities to take advantage of current and future options makes sense.
Nuclear power is a critical part of U.S. baseload electric power infrastructure and is the most scalable form of carbon free energy. Development associated with nuclear energy yields high local tax revenues due to its capital intensive nature and high paying jobs. For Mississippi, developing more of a footprint in the nuclear power industry is a long-term, grand opportunity for the state and one that communities and our state leaders should consider as a strategic area of focus.