|Today there are 103 active nuclear power reactors in the U.S. They generate 2,000 metric tons of spent nuclear waste per year and to date have accumulated 71,862 tons of spent fuel, according to industry data.[vi]|
|Of that total, 54,696 tons are stored in cooling pools and only 17,166 tons in the relatively safer dry cask storage.|
says physicist Edwin Lyman, a senior staff scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a nonprofit that advocates for a healthy environment and safer world, and ... "We do not think any reprocessing scheme existing or proposed can mitigate the serious concern of proliferation and nuclear terrorism."
"Commercial spent fuel has plutonium in it and you can think of that as an ore that could be mined for fissile material," Lyman notes. But "the cost of extracting plutonium from that ore is still much, much higher than the price of uranium."
Nevertheless, advocates including researchers at Idaho, Argonne, Los Alamos and Oak Ridge national laboratories point to a reprocessing future of so-called fast-breeder reactors, which use plutonium to generate electricity—and in the process of fissioning generate yet more plutonium, a theoretically inexhaustible source of energy. "In theory, it could produce a self-sustaining energy supply," Lyman acknowledges. "But in practice it's never worked."