More Nuclear Energy, Less Nuclear Waste

Nicolas Loris /

Another reason we need a free market approach to managing nuclear waste in the United States:

“Physicists at The University of Texas at Austin have designed a new system that, when fully developed, would use fusion to eliminate most of the transuranic waste produced by nuclear power plants.

The physicists’ new invention could drastically decrease the need for any additional or expanded geological repositories.

“Most people cite nuclear waste as the main reason they oppose nuclear fission as a source of power,” says Swadesh Mahajan, senior research scientist.

The scientists propose destroying the waste using a fusion-fission hybrid reactor, the centerpiece of which is a high power Compact Fusion Neutron Source (CFNS) made possible by a crucial invention.”

When this would become commercially viable is anybody’s guess, but it provides further support for new, innovative ideas rather than stifling them by retaining the status quo. It’s true, the U.S. already has a lot of nuclear waste harmlessly sitting at reactor sites all over the country. 58,000 tons of it. 2,000 tons produced annually.

The solution for that? You guessed it. A free-market approach to managing nuclear waste, with proper government oversight, is the only way to ensure that the commercial nuclear industry will be sustainable in the long run. Among the steps needed to privatize the system, as outlined by Heritage nuclear expert Jack Spencer, include:

• Creating the legal framework that allows the private sector to price geologic storage as a commodity;
• Empowering the private sector to manage used fuel;
• Repealing the 70,000-ton limitation on the Yucca Mountain repository and instead let technology, science, and physical capacity determine the appropriate limit;
• Creating a private entity that is representative of but independent from nuclear operators to manage Yucca Mountain;
• Repealing the mil, abolish the Nuclear Waste Fund, and transfer the remaining funds to a private entity to cover the expenses of constructing Yucca Mountain; and
• Limiting the federal government’s role to providing oversight, basic research, and development and taking title of spent fuel upon repository decom¬missioning.

The full paper, which details the federal government’s mismanagement of waste, can be found here. It won’t be easy. But if we’re serious about nuclear energy meeting energy demands and environmental goals, it is without a doubt necessary.

The reality is there’s a good possibility the best solution to nuclear waste hasn’t even been invented yet. But until we move away from the status quo, there won’t be any incentive for these ideas to flourish and come to fruition.