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U.S. May Help Other Countries Handle Nuclear Waste

Nuclear plant

The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is considering helping other countries handle their nuclear waste with U.S.-owned and operated technology in a bid to stay competitive in nuclear disposal technology globally, Reuters reported on Wednesday, quoting two sources familiar with the plans.

The NNSA confirmed to Reuters that there was a project to help other nations handle nuclear waste but declined to provide specifics on the plans.

“We are in the conceptual phase of identifying approaches that could reduce the quantity of spent nuclear fuel without creating proliferation risks - a goal with significant economic and security benefits,” NNSA spokesman Dov Schwartz told Reuters.

Schwartz noted, however, that the approach the U.S. is working on doesn’t involve reprocessing of nuclear waste—an approach banned by President Jimmy Carter in 1977 because it results in purer uranium and plutonium that could be used to make nuclear bombs.

According to Reuters sources, the U.S. could send the technology in a “black box” the size of a shipping container to other countries, but the technology would be owned and operated by the United States.

“That way you could address a country’s concerns about spent fuel without transferring ownership of the technology to them,” one of the sources told Reuters.

There are three main ways to reduce the volume of nuclear waste, according to the sources who spoke to Reuters. One is consolidation which is expensive but not too security risky; another is heating radioactive pellets in spent fuel assemblies, also costly, but also dangerous to the environment and human health; and the third one is the so-called pyroprocessing which puts the spent nuclear fuel in liquid metal and runs an electric current through it. Pyroprocessing reduces waste volume but boosts uranium and plutonium concentration, making this process a potential security and proliferation risk.

The sources who spoke to Reuters didn’t specify countries that could receive U.S.-operated technology to reduce their nuclear waste, but expressed concern that the processes could increase the risk of potentially dangerous nuclear materials falling in the hands of militants or groups unfriendly to the U.S.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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