America is in desperate need of a viable solution to the growing energy crisis. Nuclear power is just one way the country eases the strain. However, one major issue remains unresolved. What happens to the waste that occurs during the fueling process? As of right now, there are two solutions: storing or reprocessing. There are many risks associated with reprocessing. The major question is do these risks outweigh the benefits?
All power-generating processes produce waste. The nuclear power process is no different. This waste remains the primary unresolved issue for opponents of nuclear power. In order to understand this waste there must first be an understanding of the fueling process. William Tucker, one of the leading non-industry experts on nuclear power, states “A nuclear fuel rod is made up of two types of uranium: U-235, the fissionable isotope whose breakdown provides the energy; and U-238 which does not fission and serves basically as packing material” (2009). These rods, used for around five years, generate enough energy to power a city the size of San Francisco without causing any chemical transformations. Furthermore, no carbon-dioxide emissions occur during this process (Tucker, 2009). Once removed the remaining materials are stored until the next step in their journey is decided.
However, some experts will adamantly argue that nuclear waste is truly not waste. Tucker is one of those experts, as is Patrick Moore. Moore informs his readers that it is incorrect to call used nuclear fuel waste. This statement stems from the fact that over 95 percent of potential energy remains after the initial fueling process (Moore, 2006). Tucker further debunks the nuclear waste myth. After the fueling process, nuclear rods are made of 95 percent non-fissionable uranium found in everything from granite tabletops to the coal burned for electricity in coal plants. The rest of the spent rod consists of two-fifths of useable nuclear fuel (one-fifth being uranium and the other being plutonium) and three-fifths that are valuable in both industrial and medical processes. (Tucker, 2009)
Since experts say that nuclear waste is not actually waste, the country now needs to figure out what to do with the leftovers from the fueling process. Once again, the decision makers face the question of storage or reprocessing. Experts urge that reprocessing is the only solution. These experts are fighting even harder now that the Yucca Mountain repository is no longer feasible. Yucca Mountain was supposed to be the end all solution to storing nuclear waste. With that almost completely off the table, reprocessing seems like the only logical step. However, what really happens during reprocessing?
Reprocessing is a very delicate and complex process. Katherine Ling briefly describes the process in her article “Is the solution to the U.S. nuclear waste problem in France?” (2009). She describes the process as a “ballet of industrial-strength robots.”...