Nuclear Waste Is Piling Up. Does the U.S. Have a Plan?

Nuclear Waste Is Piling Up. Does the U.S. Have a Plan?

We need a permanent national nuclear waste disposal site now, before the spent nuclear fuel stored in 35 states becomes unsafe

As small modular nuclear reactors come in the U.S., managing and disposing of their highly radioactive waste should be a national priority. Forty years after the passage of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, there is, “no clear path forward for the siting, licensing, and construction of a geologic repository” for nuclear waste, according to a recent U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine report.

The good news is that there is already a clear strategy for managing and disposing of this highly radioactive material. The bad news is that the U.S. government has yet to seriously follow that plan.

The National Academies report tells us that new or advanced reactor designs—the hoped-for saviors of the nuclear industry—will not save us from the need to build geologic repositories, deep-mined facilities for permanent nuclear waste disposal. In some cases, these new reactors may make it worse by creating more waste that’s more costly to manage, new kinds of complex waste, or just more waste, period. Before we face that onrush, we first need to deal with the large volume of waste we’ve already produced.

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