Nonproliferation
Resource
Fact Sheet

Spent Nuclear Fuel in the United States

Management and Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel in the United States

  • June 2, 2020
  • 4:29 pm

Highlights

77,955 tHM spent nuclear fuel in storage (2016)
131,500 tHM spent nuclear fuel projected by 2050
1960 First year of commercial nuclear operation
96 operating nuclear power reactors
50 operating research and test reactors
99.4 GW(e) installed nuclear capacity (2018)
19.32% nuclear share of domestic energy production (2018)

Regulator: Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
Power Operators: 32+ licensed operators

Nuclear Power stations in the United States (as of 2019)

Management and Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel

Practices

  • Spent fuel is stored both wet and dry as decided by owners and approved by the NRC
  • All NPPs currently have both wet and dry storage facilities and there are additional independent spent fuel storage installations (ISFSIs)
  • Research reactor fuel is stored wet onsite or stored wet or dry at DOE facilities
  • From 1966 to 1972 there were approximately 640 mtHM spent fuel (from commercial and government reactors) reprocessed at the West Valley Reprocessing plant
  • In 1977 the U.S. government declared a moratorium on domestic SNF reprocessing due to proliferation concerns. This suspension remains in practice despite reversal of the moratorium in 1981
  • The DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy runs a project on Nuclear Fuels Storage & Transportation Planning to develop an interim storage facility pursuant to Congressional authorization; the Office also runs programs on advanced fuels

Obligations

  • The U.S. voluntary offer agreement with the IAEA (INFCIRC/288) entered into force in 1980, and the additional protocol in 2009
  • The U.S. signed the Joint Convention in 1997 and ratified in 2003
  • The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 provides a mandate for the DOE to research, build, and operate a DGR, provided the NRC approves licensing. The Act establish a financing mechanism in which those that benefited from electricity generated by nuclear power paid the federal government for a multi-generational program to dispose of SNF.
  • Amendments to the Act in 1987 identified Yucca Mountain as the primary candidate site and site investigation cannot be conducted at others without Congressional authorization
  • The Act also mandates that the operators/owners of NPPs are responsible for interim storage.
  • $23 billion is estimated for the damages the government will have to pay to nuclear power operators, which for the past 30 years have paid a fee to DOE on the promise that the government would begin collecting the waste in 1998.
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