Below are key takeaways from a workshop in Taipei, Taiwan on NTI's Developing Spent Fuel Strategies Project:
Many countries facing storage and final disposal siting challenges (geologic and political) have a strong interest in regional approaches to spent fuel management. Regional approaches would benefit from a wider framework to nurture trust and confidence – incorporating, for example, integrated research in engineering, hard sciences, social sciences, etc. Partnerships will enhance regional transparency and flexibility, potentially providing better waste solutions while enhancing security and nonproliferation. Regional spent fuel management plans need to be combined with a nuclear security regime
New nuclear entrants with small power programs or plans for programs also have an interest in regional approaches to spent fuel storage and disposal.
There is an urgent and growing need for spent fuel solutions in Asia, particularly in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Failure to manage these problems threatens national, regional and international security, exacerbates nonproliferation risks, jeopardizes the future of nuclear power in Asia, and impacts serious efforts to deal with climate change.
The creation of cooperative networks and regional frameworks for storage and disposal would be a productive way to pursue spent fuel management in Asia. There are no such groupings/approaches at present.
There were clear indications from the meeting that Japan and South Korea – and likely others – could be interested in the establishment of a regional partnership dedicated to pursuing solutions to mutual challenges across a broad spectrum of fuel cycle challenges.
National interim storage options are the most common approach being followed. Regional interim storage facilities may be a more politically acceptable solution in the region in the short to medium term, as opposed to aiming directly for regional disposal. Questions concerning the final disposal of spent fuel or wastes arising from its reprocessing will, however, continue to be raised.
A formal regional group, openly supported at the senior government level, with a self-funding mechanism could pursue a cooperative agenda with shared facilities as the ultimate goal. It would include Japan, South Korea and Taiwan at a minimum at the outset. There are indications that countries would not only participate but contribute substantial resources toward such an endeavor. Once the framework is in place, the network could be expanded to include other players such as Russia and China as well as emerging Asian nuclear nations.
All participants expressed their belief that it will be essential for the U.S. to play a major, constructive role in any such regional initiative; a prime reason for this, from the Asian perspective, is that US-supplied fuel powers much of the region. There are strong global climate change, regional/international security and nonproliferation reasons for the U.S. to galvanize such an initiative.
Involvement may help to arrest the general drift in U.S. international nuclear engagement, which has tended to be episodic and tactical to a more sustained and holistic approach. Without this, countries may well continue to look to others, such as Russia, for assistance and leadership in the nuclear field.
Sustained U.S. engagement in a cooperative Asian spent fuel management initiative may also help revitalize the U.S. domestic waste management program, providing a non-partisan and compelling platform for domestic action. . At the same time, such revitalization would enhance the ability of the U.S. to provide the international leadership that is needed.
A regional approach to spent fuel management in Asia could present a “win/win/win” path forward (globally, in Asia and in the US), allowing for the safe and effective expansion of nuclear power while simultaneously reducing security and nonproliferation concerns and solving the spent fuel/high level waste dilemma.
The creation of an ‘Asian Group on Coordination of Spent Fuel Management,’ consisting of government officials with political support from higher levels of government, technical support from the national centers of expertise and sustainable funding, would send a very powerful signal of commitment to the region and internationally.
International management of interim storage facilities in Asia is an idea worth investigating.
Pursuing regional approaches must not mean simply relying on someone else to take a country’s spent fuel away. All countries must have a national program for spent fuel management.
If reprocessing is pursued as part of a closed fuel cycle, recycling should be undertaken as soon as possible afterward to avoid the stockpiling of plutonium.
Spent fuel take-back would be an effective solution (from a security, safety and financial perspective) if an appropriate supplier country was willing to offer this service. Providing that the country can ensure state-of-the-art competence and facilities, the international community should support any such offer, recognizing that it enhances global safety and security.
The business case for spent fuel management is not the problem. What is needed is a driver (i.e. a country/countries and an initiative) to move things forward.
Increasingly high burn-up fuel and large dry storage canisters make moving spent fuel stored in such canisters problematic in the short to medium term because the allowable thermal limits for transportation can be substantially lower than the limits for storage, requiring an extended period of aging before the canisters have cooled down enough to be moved.
Consent-based approaches to spent fuel management are needed, as implemented in a number of successful cases and also recommended by the BRC.
As evidenced by the “Waste Directive” of the European Commission, spent fuel in Europe is considered a ‘European challenge’ that might be best solved by multinational cooperation; should spent fuel in Asia be considered an ‘Asian challenge’?
Making a contribution to national security is a powerful motivator but this argument has not been sufficiently emphasized with spent fuel in Asia or many other places.
Innovative solutions to spent fuel management in other parts of the world should be publicized e.g. the HABOG HLW and SNF storage facility in the Netherlands.
Trying to find a host community should not be the first step in any national or regional spent fuel management strategy. Achieving a consensus view on the potential benefits and drawbacks of hosting or using a multinational facility is a key prerequisite.
There are many technical and non-technical topics that can be studied collaboratively by regional partnerships now, including: long-term performance of wet and dry storage; long-term performance of SNF inside dry casks; different cask types, spent fuel transportation, security aspects of spent fuel management, siting strategies and criteria for (national) storage and disposal facilities, comparison of direct disposal with (advanced) reprocessing strategies focusing on resulting waste inventories’ characteristics, and public communication and dialogue.
The establishment of a ‘virtual multinational laboratory’ to support collaborative regional/international work on spent fuel management challenges might be one way to foster technical and institutional cooperation. This could complement and strengthen the above mentioned Asian Group on Coordination of Spent Fuel Management – but not replace it.
Consideration should be given to siting interim storage facilities in locations where final disposal might also be feasible. Co-location with NPP’s is also a proven strategy.
Eventually a regional network – a human network and institutional regime – will require international obligations and commitments from government and industry.
There was consensus that the need for action on creating spent fuel management pathways in Asia and elsewhere is urgent and first steps must be undertaken now. These steps should be small but concrete, with the initial emphasis placed on confidence-building measures.
Asian attendees at the meeting undertook to clarify further in their home countries the readiness of governmental representatives to explore further the Asian Group on Coordination.