Spent Fuel & Waste

Proliferation Concerns of Spent Fuel

  • Japan’s Spent Fuel and Plutonium Management Challenges: A research report of the International Panel on Fissile Materials. Tadahiro Katsuta and Tatsujiro Suzuki, September 2006. This report notes that, despite the clear-cut cost disadvantages associated with plutonium reprocessing, Japan is pushing ahead with the Rokkasho reprocessing plan due to local political considerations. But without the capacity to use all the reprocessed plutonium as nuclear fuel, there’s a risk of Japan building up a huge plutonium stockpile.
  • Troubled Disposition: Next Steps in Dealing With Excess Plutonium. Matthew Bunn, Arms Control Today, April 2007. Bunn notes that, despite the signature in 2000 of the U.S.-Russian Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA), projected schedules for getting rid of excess U.S. and Russian plutonium stockpiles have slipped by more than seven years, and the estimated costs of the effort have increased dramatically. He argues that disposition of excess plutonium can still offer security benefits worth its mounting costs, but only if disposition is ultimately applied to far larger stocks of plutonium than committed so far, as part of a broader pursuit of deep and irreversible nuclear arms reductions, and if stringent standards of security are maintained throughout.

Spent Fuel Storage

  • Kazakhstan’s Proposal to Initiate Commercial Imports of Radioactive Waste. Nuclear Threat Initiative Issue Brief, January 2003. The proposal to turn Kazakhstan into a commercial importer of radioactive waste has been on the nation’s agenda since the summer of 2001. It is believed that such imports would generate significant profits and allow the country to solve the problem of its own accumulated radioactive waste. The ongoing debates focus on the import, storage, and subsequent disposal of low- and medium-level radioactive waste on the republic’s territory—debates that have revealed the divisive and controversial nature of this issue.
  • Robust Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel: A Neglected Issue of Homeland Security. Gordon Thompson, Institute for Resource and Security Studies, January 2003. Arguing that “nuclear power plants and their spent fuel can be regarded as pre-deployed radiological weapons that await activation by an enemy,” this report calls for a robust strategy for storage of US spent fuel “as a major element of a defense-in-depth strategy for US nuclear facilities.”
  • Reducing the Hazards from Stored Spent Power-Reactor Fuel in the United States. Robert Alvarez et al., Science and Global Security 11, 1-51, 2003. Because of the lack of off-site storage capacity for spent reactor fuel in the United States, U.S. spent fuel ponds are holding spent fuel at a density approaching that of reactor cores. This high density storage carries the risk of an accident that could release large amounts of highly radioactive material, as well as making an inviting target for terrorists. To prevent these scenarios, the authors suggest that all spent fuel be moved from wet storage to dry cask storage within five years of being discharged from nuclear reactors.
  • Energy Cooperation in Northeast Asia: Study for Nuclear Power and Cooperation for Radioactive Waste Management in Northeast Asia. Yoon-Kyung Kim, Korea Energy Economics Institute, March 2004. This summary describes the nuclear power generation capacities and spent fuel management policies of the various countries in Northeast Asia, and discusses the potential and pitfalls for an international approach to waste management.
  • Multilateral Nuclear Fuel Cycle Arrangements. Harald Muller, The Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, No. 35. This report notes that the multilateralization of the fuel cycle has been seen as a way to promote peaceful use of nuclear energy without risking the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Recently heightened concerns about fuel cycle activities in states such as Iran have renewed the interest in multilateral arrangements as an alternative to fuel cycle autarchy.
  • An International Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage Facility: Exploring a Russian Site as a Prototype. Glenn E. Schweitzer and A. Chelsea Sharber, ed., Committee on the Scientific Aspects of an International Spent Fuel Repository in Russia, 2005. After several years of contentious debate, the Russian government enacted three laws that permit the importation and storage in Russia of spent nuclear fuel from reactors. This report presents the results of a workshop of international experts on scientific issues related to the establishment and operation of a storage facility held in Moscow on May 14-15 2003.
  • Radioactive Waste Information: Meeting Our Obligations to Future Generations with Regard to the Safety of Waste Disposal Facilities. Gavan McCarthy and Ian Upshaw, ICA Study 18, May 2006.  This report discusses the preservation of information on waste disposal.  Given the length of time that radioactive waste remains hazardous, future generations will need information about radioactive waste disposal facilities and their contents.
  • International Nuclear Waste Disposal Concepts. Uranium Information Centre, Briefing Paper 49, September 2006. There have been several proposals for regional and international repositories for disposal of high-level nuclear wastes. Russia has passed legislation to allow the import of high-level wastes, but appears unlikely to proceed with this. The European Commission is funding studies to to assess the feasibility of European regional waste repositories. Pangea Resources earlier identified a large area of outback Australia as having appropriate characteristics for deep geological disposal, and hence for such a repository.

IAEA Reports


  • Two Scenarios of Nuclear Power and Nuclear Waste Production in Northeast Asia. This paper describes the compilation of two country-by-county scenarios of electricity supply in Northeast Asia. Estimates of annual electricity generation by plant type were used to estimate the production of several classes of nuclear wastes. Estimates of the production of spent fuel were used to estimate requirements for “Dry Cask Storage” of irradiated nuclear fuel assemblies.

Economic Issues

  • The Economics of Reprocessing vs. Direct Disposal of Nuclear Fuel. Matthew Bunn et al., Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, December 2003. While some analysts have argued in recent years that the costs of reprocessing and direct disposal are similar, and that reprocessing will soon be the more cost-effective approach as uranium prices increase, the data and analyses presented in this report demonstrate that the margin between the cost of reprocessing and recycling and that of direct disposal is wide, and is likely to persist for many decades to come.