The reprocessing of nuclear waste—a banned process—could solve the problem of its buildup in the United States, according to the head of the Nuclear Energy Institute, Maria Korsnick.

“Reprocessing is a very interesting part of the solution set,” Korsnick told Reuters in an interview, noting that it closed the nuclear power cycle in a useful way.

Reprocessing of nuclear fuel waste was banned in the United States by President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s on concerns that it could be used to make nuclear weapons. In France, however, a country reliant on nuclear power plants for most of its energy needs, the waste is being reprocessed to make new nuclear fuel.

In the United States, nuclear power accounts for about a fifth of the energy supply. Nuclear waste is currently stored at the power plants themselves, according to Reuters, first in pools and then in casks made from steel and concrete. There are dozens of spent fuel pools across the United States.

Years ago, a centralized nuclear waste repository was proposed in Yucca Mountain, in Nevada. The Yucca Mountain facility would have had a capacity to store up to 70,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, some 1,000 feet below the mountain. However, the facility never reached the stage of going into operation because of the opposition of local communities.

There is opposition to other proposed nuclear waste repositories, too, as local communities fear what is advertised as a temporary solution to the nuclear waste problem could become permanent.

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In this context, reprocessing the waste to make more nuclear fuel is a no-brainer. The Nuclear Energy Institute’s Korsnick told Reuters the industry was eager to work with the next federal administration on nuclear energy issues, including the handling and possible reuse of waste.

By Irina Slav for

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