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Plan Could Reduce Waste Sent to Yucca Mountain

There is new interest in a plan to recycle nuclear waste, which could then be used again in a reactor to make electricity. Reprocessing could also reduce the amount of material destined for Nevada's Yucca Mountain.

Japan and France reprocess their waste, and the United States used to. In the early 1970s there was a reprocessing plant in West Valley, N.Y. It took waste from nuclear plants, extracted the plutonium and shipped it back to a reactor that produced electricity.

Detractors say reprocessing would be prohibitively expensive and presents an unacceptable risk that the technology could be used by terrorists to extract plutonium for bombs.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: June 21, 2005 at 1:00 PM CDT
Matthew Bunn of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government was incorrectly cited as saying that reprocessed fuel would be ten times as expensive as traditional uranium fuel. Instead, Bunn says, "the uranium price would have to go up to over 10 times the average price paid by U.S. utilities last year before reprocessing would be competitive economically." Since the uranium price is a small fraction of the total fuel price, this is a very different statement.
David Kestenbaum is a correspondent for NPR, covering science, energy issues and, most recently, the global economy for NPR's multimedia project Planet Money. David has been a science correspondent for NPR since 1999. He came to journalism the usual way — by getting a Ph.D. in physics first.