CEO Jacques Besnainou sees startup of effort by 2015
The head of the U.S. operation of French state-owned nuclear giant Areva told a breakfast meeting of news reporters hosted by the Energy Daily on June 6 that the solution to the U.S. bottleneck in managing spent nuclear fuel is a recycling center.
Jacques Besnainou, CEO of Areva’s North American operation, (right) said the firm hopes that the legislative, regulatory, and funding mechanisms can be in place by 2015 to start work on an 800 ton/year plan that could cost as much as $25 billion.
He said the the firm is already in discussions with several nuclear utilities about a consortium to develop a plan and design for such a plant. Along with Areva, Besaninou said the group “would advocate more loudly for a recycling center in the U.S.” Areva has a white paper that expands on Besnainou's remarks.
“We’re going to be much more vocal by the end of the year.”
Benefits of recycling
He adds that with the volume reduction of spent fuel that comes from recycling the, need for a permanent geologic repository could be push back by 50 years. Eventually, there would be enough high level waste to require one, but it would be a lot smaller than Yucca Mountain.
Besnainou says he hopes to change the BRC’s mind and that it will leave open options for a recycling facility. He thinks the BRC is whistling in the wind if it assumes any community will accept an interim storage site without the prospect for jobs associated with construction and operation of a reprocessing plant.
Besanainou added that Areva has has talks with communities that might be interested in the plant. In 2007 Areva looked at several sites under the GNEP program which was developed by the Bush Administration but rejected by Congress.
Kicking the can down the road
Besnainou cautioned that the current work of the Department of Energy Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) on spent nuclear fuel is a case of “kicking the can down the road.” In its draft recommendations, the commission has recommended an interim storage site for spent fuel and downplayed the potential for fuel reprocessing. Instead, the BRC called for more federally funded R&D especially on fast reactors which the panel said might not be ready for commercial use for another 40 years.
The commission said in its summary of draft recommendations it sees “no currently available for reasonably foreseeable technology will change the need for interim and long term storage.”
This conservative view, Besaninou said, failed to take advantage of plans the U.S. is already planning to put in place. The first is to create a special government corporation, like TVA, to move management, and funding, of spent fuel out of the Department of Energy. By giving a federal corporation (FedCorp) authority to spend money from the nuclear waste fund, conditions would be favorable to take the next step which is to design and build a reprocessing plant.
A key success factor would be that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission develops a set of safety requirements that could be use to license the site. It is conceivable that under the NRC’s cost recovery rules, FedCorp could pay for development of the safety evaluation report regulations and the review of the facility.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Edwin Lyman, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an anti-nuclear group, criticized Besnainou’s proposal. He told the WSJ, “We don’t think there is a technical fix for the proliferation problem.”
The objection is contradicted by the fact that Lyman’s group has also opposed the construction of the MOX fuel facility in South Carolina and has done everything in its power to stop the government from permanently taking 34 tons of weapons grade plutonium out of circulation.
If the reprocessing process doesn’t separate plutonium why would there be a proliferation threat? If the MOX facility removed weapons grade plutonium from the nation’s arsenal, why would a self-described “good science” group oppose it? The UCS position on both counts appears illogical in this light.
Russia updates plutonium program
The Global Security Newswire reported June 7 an update to a U.S.-Russian pact on eliminating stockpiled weapon-usable plutonium has received Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's approval.
The amended version of the 2000 Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement recommits the two countries to each disposing of at least 34 metric tons of excess plutonium -- enough to fuel thousands of nuclear weapons -- beginning in 2018. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed off on the deal in April 2010.
The United States is expected to provide $400 million in assistance for the disposal of surplus Russian plutonium. Moscow would set aside $3.5 billion for the effort.
Area to cut debt, postpone investment
While Areva North American CEO was pushing for a $25 billion investment in fuel recycling, using money from the Waste Fund, back in Paris at the Areva home office executives there were in retrenchment mode. According to a report by the Bloomberg wire service for June 8, Areva may postpone investments, including some in the U.S., to mitigate the effect of the Fukushima crisis in Japan on cash flow and debt.
The firm said it would slow down spending on African uranium mines and possibly delay start of construction of a uranium enrichment plant in Idaho. According to the wire service report, Areva said a previously robust backlog of projects is now less firm with lower targets for revenue, margins, and cash flow.
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