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TABLE 1 Amounts of Spent Nuclear Fuel in Storage and Rate at Which the Amount is Increasing

Type of Spent Nuclear Fuel

Russian Federation Spent Nuclear Fuel (metric tons of heavy metal)

United States Spent Nuclear Fuel (metric tons of heavy metal)

Power Reactor

14,000 + 850 per year

45,000 + 2000 per year


70 + fuel from 15–18 nuclear power stations per year

19.5 + 45.5 over 33 yearsa

Production Reactor

Not availableb

2100 + 0 per year

Research Reactor

28,500 assemblies

23 + 0.07 per year

aCiting an annual rate for discharges from naval reactors may not be accurate so the expected total for a known period is given.

bApproximately 1.5 metric tons of separated plutonium are produced each year by the three dual purpose reactors. The spent nuclear fuel from these reactors is stored only briefly before going through chemical separations.

SOURCE: National Research Council. End Points for Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in Russia and the United States. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2003, Table 1.1.


The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) currently manages about 2500 metric tons of heavy metal of spent fuel, of about 250 different types. This includes fuel from plutonium production reactors, naval reactors, and research and demonstration reactors.

The United States halted reprocessing to obtain weapons plutonium in 1988, and the Hanford reprocessing canyons shut down in 1989. One Savannah River canyon continues to operate for processing unstable fuel. The Idaho Chemical Processing Plant, which had been used for naval fuel, shut down in 1992.

Table 2 lists quantities of U.S. government fuel and current disposition plans.


The United States produced 191 submarines each with 1 reactor, 8 aircraft carriers with 2 reactors each and 1 carrier with 8 reactors, 9 cruisers with 2 reactors each, a deep submergence research vessel with 1 reactor, and 1 civilian cargo ship with 1 reactor. The only nuclear ships still in service are the carriers and 72 submarines.1

All navy spent fuel is shipped to Idaho National Laboratory for storage. After decommissioning the ship and removal of the fuel, the reactor compartment is removed and shipped to the Hanford site for storage.

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