Conclusions and Recommendations
The current state of affairs regarding end-point issues in Russia and the United States is that the practical activities of managing spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and high-level radioactive waste (HLW) in the two countries now are similar in many respects. In the United States, the majority of SNF is in storage and is likely to remain so for at least two decades. In Russia, only a limited portion of the commercial SNF (from VVER-440 reactors) undergoes chemical reprocessing, while most of the commercial SNF (from RBMK and VVER-1000 reactors) at present is being stored. At the same time, both countries chemically process liquid HLW in order to immobilize it for safer storage and disposal.
The United States and Russia, however, have different approaches to and long-term strategies for realization of end points for SNF and HLW. The United States currently plans to transport SNF to a geologic repository for disposal without chemical processing. Russia plans to develop the capacity to chemically process all of its SNF to recover and reuse uranium and plutonium in reactors, while immobilizing the HLW from the processing, and disposing of the immobilized waste in geologic repositories at the processing sites. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages. Selection of end points and approaches to end points can be informed by science and engineering, but the selection involves policy decisions that incorporate economics, political considerations, and in some cases, international relations. Such decisions must address both interim, short-term end points and final long-term end points. In doing so, safety, environmental impact, and proliferation concerns must be included.
Geologic disposal has been considered the most promising option for disposition of high-level radioactive waste since at least 1957, when a report of the National Research Council (1) concluded that “wastes may be disposed of safely at many sites,” (2)
suggested that “disposal in cavities mined in salt beds and salt domes” promises “the most practical immediate solution of the problem,” and (3) noted that solidifying the waste into an insoluble form would simplify disposal (NRC 1957). That early report noted that a great deal of research was still needed. Indeed, institutions charged with planning and carrying out geologic disposal have encountered major political and technical difficulties. Most communities are not receptive to hosting a HLW repository,1 and some groups oppose disposal because of concerns about environmental damage and as a way to strike at nuclear power.
Most of the technical challenges are related in some way to uncertainty. Understanding the mechanisms and characterizing the features of environmental systems is a much more difficult task than it was thought to be 45 years ago. Understanding the disposal environment and how it interacts with the engineered facilities and packages placed in it provide the basis for predicting behavior. Scientists must make predictions spanning, in some cases, tens of thousands of years to respond to regulatory guidance and requirements. Such predictions necessarily involve uncertainties, even when the physical, chemical, and biological phenomena involved are well understood. The time and effort expended in countries that have geologic disposal programs attest to the difficulties, and scientific understanding of the phenomena involved is still evolving.
A recent report by an international committee of the National Research Council nonetheless concludes that geologic disposition is the only long-term end point that does not require continued management and resource expenditures (NRC 2001a). Worldwide, no engineered geologic repository for HLW has been designed and operated as yet, although the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in the United States is an operating geologic repository for long-lived transuranic waste. The WIPP is approximately 700 meters underground, mined out of bedded salt.
The committee draws from previous studies by the National Academies in recommending a risk-based approach to management and disposition of HLW and SNF and cleanup of contaminated sites. These studies were not specific to the United States—
most were explicitly generic regarding the national context—but most were applied to specific cases in the United States. By a “risk-based approach,” the committee means that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Ministry of Atomic Energy of the Russian Federation (Minatom) should prioritize their efforts based first on the risks posed by the problem, situation, or condition. The first step in setting such priorities is to characterize and understand the risks. Risk analysis and characterization, and indeed the overall decision-making process, are societal processes that need participation from the public to function properly. “Adequate risk analysis and characterization…depend on incorporating the perspectives and knowledge of the interested and affected parties from the earliest phases of the effort to understand the risks. The process must have an appropriately diverse participation or representation of the spectrum of interested and affected parties, of decision makers, and of specialists in risk analysis, at each step” (NRC 1996b, p.3).
Risks in some cases are substantial and more or less immediate (such as the buildup of flammable gas mixtures in the tanks at Hanford in the 1980s and 1990s), so their priority is clear even before the risks are well characterized. But once measures are taken to mitigate immediate risks, a more thorough understanding is needed for the next step, which is to assign priorities among the less critical problems.
The second element of a risk-based approach is seeking effective technical solutions for problems. Where effective solutions are not at hand, risks must be managed while a program of research and development (R&D) for effective solutions is pursued. Effective solutions are best developed when a set of desired end points or end states (a reference end state and alternatives) have been identified (see Sidebar 4.1). The R&D programs are more likely to succeed if they pursue multiple technological alternatives to address each problem until a clear winner is apparent (NRC 1999c). This approach would enable DOE to pursue a phased decision strategy rather than a phased implementation strategy for the one alternative (NRC 1996c).
This approach applies not only to managing liquid HLW in corroding tanks and remediating contaminated ground water, but also to disposition of radioactive waste in geologic repositories. Reports by the National Research Council (1990, 2001a, 2002b) recommend that those who run HLW-repository programs develop
SIDEBAR 4.1: An End State Methodology
A National Research Council (NRC) report specifically addresses the question of how to identify technology needs for DOE’s environmental and waste management problems. The NRC report (1999c) recommends a systems engineering approach that entails “structuring of remediation scenarios (i.e., a reference scenario and several alternatives) to identify the technologies required to reliably achieve the goals of radioactive waste management in the face of uncertainties about the future.”
The report lays out the end-state approach in seven steps.
a stepwise approach to implementation. The development of a safety case2 as part of a stepwise approach facilitates continuous learning and can help address the technical and societal uncertainties associated with HLW repositories. Geologic repositories that are intended to isolate wastes from the biosphere for anywhere from centuries to hundreds of centuries are an unprece-
dented engineering endeavor. “[A] stepwise process that allows for continuing improvement of scientific understanding is appropriate for decision making” (NRC 2001a, p. 21). “For both technical and societal reasons, national (HLW repository) programs should proceed in a phased or stepwise manner, supported by dialogue and analysis” (NRC 2001a, p. 42).
In both countries progress is being made in handling the radioactive waste problems. In Russia, progress is being made as HLW at PA “Mayak” is immobilized in aluminophosphate glass logs and stored onsite; interim storage facilities are planned for SNF at several sites; efforts are underway at the Krasnoyarsk MCC to extend the capacity of the wet storage facility and to design and plan construction of a dry storage facility for VVER-1000 and RBMK SNF; and the rate of defueling of decommissioned nuclear-powered ships has increased. In the United States, DOE and other managers of SNF have made progress in achieving interim end points for SNF and HLW: nearly all SNF in the United States is in safe storage in cooling pools or in dry casks; HLW at West Valley has been vitrified and HLW at the Savannah River Site (SRS) is in the process of being vitrified and stored; calcined HLW at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) sits in stainless steel bins that are deemed to be safe for centuries; and TRU waste has begun to be shipped to the WIPP facility, which opened in 1999. Overall progress, however, has been slow and much more work remains to be done in both countries.
4.1 PROBLEMS THAT REQUIRE IMMEDIATE ATTENTION AND PROMPT ACTION
As is described in the previous chapters of this report, Russia and the United States face many similar problems, but Russia is at a different stage from that in the United States in addressing its problems (see Bradley et al. 1996). The creation of the Office of Environmental Management within DOE in 1989 signaled the increased attention, efforts, and funding the United States began to devote to environmental and waste-management problems in its nuclear-weapons complex. The annual funding for this office is now approximately $7 billion. DOE has addressed problems that pose immediate risks to workers and the public, although many of the problems still require attention, because the measures taken have been temporary solutions.
Russia has made efforts to address the most serious environmental and waste-management problems within its nuclear complex, and has made progress on some of them. But the resources available for these activities in Russia have been much smaller, and some of the problems, particularly the environmental contamination, are more difficult and urgent than their counterparts in the United States.3 As a result, the timeframe for dealing with the problems requiring near-term actions in Russia is different from that in the United States. Therefore, the problems highlighted in this section concerning Russia require action with timeframes of months or years, and those concerning the United States require action over the next several years. The committee would like to emphasize that each nation’s problems are important and demand attention, but Russia’s problems need more immediate action to protect the security, safety, and health of people and the environment.
4.1.1 Immediate Problems in Russia
In Russia these problems include several that the committee has identified to be of greatest concern. The order of the first two has been debated, but all committee members agree these are the first two concerns.
The potential for terrorist attacks involving liquid HLW stored in tanks at radiochemical enterprises.
HLW and SNF present both potential targets for terrorist attacks and potential material for manufacturing radiological weapons (including so-called “dirty bombs”). These wastes are located at many sites and, in some cases, are not sufficiently protected. The physical form of SNF makes it more difficult to dis-
perse its radioactive constituents than those of liquid HLW. Nonetheless, all SNF should be provided immediately with proper physical protection, and sites storing intense radiation sources should be placed under constant monitoring. To reduce the potential for terrorist attacks and vulnerabilities associated with stored liquid HLW, governments should deploy physical protection systems capable of preventing successful attacks and should accelerate programs to immobilize that waste.
The potential theft of HEU and plutonium
Because of the potentially horrible consequences of the theft of nuclear materials containing highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium, efforts to prevent such thefts should be strengthened. This can be accomplished by improving materials protection, control, and accounting (MPC&A) at sites where HEU (including HEU SNF from research and propulsion reactors) and plutonium are stored and by consolidation of these materials in well-protected, centralized facilities, such as PA “Mayak.” Accelerating completion of the specialized plutonium storage facility at PA “Mayak” would facilitate these efforts.
Northern Fleet SNF
Many of the spent fuel assemblies in storage, and the storage facilities themselves, are in poor condition and constitute serious hazards. The largest SNF storage facility in the region, Andreeva Bay, has a “short-term” facility that has been in operation for over 18 years and does not meet current safety requirements. Some of the assemblies sit in containers in an open area. These storage facilities should be upgraded or new ones should be built, and efforts should proceed toward developing a new underground geologic repository in the region.
Decommissioned nuclear-powered submarines awaiting unloading of SNF
Dozens of decommissioned nuclear submarines await defueling. As soon as possible, plans should be implemented for this fuel to be unloaded and shipped for safe storage at PA “Mayak” or properly stored at specialized facilities on shore.
Dumping of liquid radioactive wastes at PA “Mayak” into Lake Karachai and the Techa Ponds Cascade
Liquid radioactive wastes continue to be dumped into Lake Karachai and the Techa Ponds Cascade at the PA “Mayak.” This leads to serious risks of further environmental pollution, including underground and surface-water contamination. Moreover, there is a threat of dam failure, which could result in contamination of the Techa water basin with water bearing radioactive waste. In order to reduce on-going contamination and to prevent accidents, the practice of dumping of liquid radioactive wastes into Lake Karachai should be discontinued in the future and appropriate actions should be taken to decrease the water level in the Techa ponds cascade.
4.1.2 Near-Term Problems in the United States
Several problems in the United States require action over the next several years.
Prevent Use of Nuclear Materials for Terrorist Acts
While Russia has been aware of terrorist threats, the events of September 11, 2001, made the United States focus on the necessity to address potential terrorist acts, and this has led to many reviews of vulnerabilities of nuclear power stations and all facilities where radioactive materials are stored and used (see, e.g., NRC ). These reviews have not been completed, but should be completed as quickly as feasible, and near-term actions should be taken to address the vulnerabilities identified in these reviews.
Hard-to-retrieve HLW in corroded or damaged single-shell tanks at Hanford
Some forms of HLW in underground tanks are difficult to retrieve and, particularly in the case of single-shell tanks at Hanford, pose substantial risks of further environmental contamination. It is not clear that existing technical solutions are adequate or acceptable for addressing this problem, which may delay ac-
tion. These issues probably will require research and development.
Corroding N-Reactor fuel at Hanford
Some SNF from the N-Reactor at Hanford is in very poor condition and is stored in cooling pools (the “K-basins”), one of which has leaked. Efforts to stabilize, dry, and package this fuel should be expedited and a disposition path should be found for the corrosion products and sludge from this fuel.
A disposition program for excess weapons plutonium that has an ambitious schedule and has not taken crucial steps
As noted in Chapter 2, current DOE plans are to complete designs for the MOX fuel-fabrication facility in 2003, complete the licensing in 2005, to begin hot startup of the facility in 2007, and to load the first MOX fuel into a reactor in August 2008. This is an ambitious schedule, particularly since there is not a decision yet on how to manufacture the lead test assemblies so that they can be tested (and licensed) for use in a commercial reactor, and because one of the two utilities that had originally signed up for the MOX program has pulled out. DOE should settle on a final plan for manufacturing the lead test assemblies, and establish a schedule that will lead to putting weapons plutonium, in MOX-fuel form, in a U.S. commercial nuclear power reactor no later than 2010.
4.2 LONGER-TERM RESEARCH, DEVELOPMENT, AND IMPLEMENTATION
Several problems in Russia and the United States demand attention in the form of research, development, and implementation. In addition to the areas of work described in this section, most if not all of the problems described in Section 4.1 will also require research, development, and implementation with a longer-range view than is implied by the call for urgent action in Section 4.1. Those problems are not reiterated in this section.
4.2.1 Nuclear Fuel Cycles
The desirability of a nuclear fuel cycle (open or closed) depends on many factors, some of which are technical but many of which have social, economic, and political dimensions, and each of these might be different in different countries or at different times. It would be worthwhile to conduct a systematic comparison of nuclear fuel cycles in Russia and the United States to understand better the factors and conditions that might encourage or discourage each approach in the future.
Further, Russia plans to increase the role of fast reactors in its nuclear fuel cycle and so will need to choose between different options. To this end, Russia should carry out a comparative analysis of the efficiency of two approaches to organization of the closed nuclear fuel cycle with fast reactors: (1) using fast neutron reactors with conversion ratios of approximately 1.05 to 1.1, which require plutonium generated in thermal reactors for their primary feed, and (2) using fast reactors with more efficient breeding (conversion ratio of approximately 1.6), which make an independent fuel cycle possible without preliminary plutonium production in thermal reactors. Comparison of the results obtained will help Russia to select what approach is preferable or to take a decision on collateral implementation of both options.
4.2.2 New Work on Reprocessing
Russia plans to reprocess VVER-1000 SNF at the future RT-2 plant at the Krasnoyarsk Mining and Chemical Combine. If this is to be realized using new technologies, then a special line for reprocessing of this SNF must be designed for RT-2 or, if construction of RT-2 is canceled, then this line can be deployed at the operating RT-1 plant at PA “Mayak.” The economic aspects do not warrant expedited reprocessing of this SNF, so Russia plans to store VVER-1000 SNF until economic incentives arise.
RBMK fuel is currently less attractive for reprocessing than other SNF, in part because of the low enriched uranium it uses, and in part because the isotopic composition of its plutonium is not particularly suitable for MOX fuel for thermal reactors. Development of an economically acceptable technology for reprocessing of RBMK SNF would help Russia to realize its goal of a closed fuel cycle.
The PUREX process, which has been used for nearly all processing of SNF in both the defense and commercial nuclear programs, generates large amounts of waste that must be further processed before it can be immobilized for disposal. In addition, current closed nuclear fuel cycles are more expensive than the open fuel cycle, and it is doubtful that closed fuel cycles will be economically competitive if they use PUREX technology. In Russia, alternative processes and improvements to the PUREX process should be carefully considered. For example, should different fuels with different isotopic compositions be treated separately or with different processes, particularly if the objectives are different? A Russian research and development program, drawing on and coordinating with international efforts in these areas, could dramatically reduce the risks and impacts of an expanded SNF processing program in Russia, and might improve the economic features of the program.
Such studies of non-PUREX processes may become important also for the United States as the government pursues the recommendations of the national energy policy announced by the administration in 2001 (National Energy Policy Development Group 2001). In any case, both nations would benefit from examining current processing flowsheets for both HLW and SNF and revising them as necessary to ensure that there will be significant improvements in the forms, and net decreases in the amounts, of radioactive waste that are generated. All analyses of reprocessing options should include consideration of proliferation risks.
4.2.3 Further Develop MOX-Fuel Fabrication Technology
As noted above, Russia plans to use MOX fuel in its thermal and fast reactors. Russia’s VVER-1000 reactors are likely to be the first of Russia’s thermal reactors to be loaded with MOX fuel. For this to be realized, further development of MOX-fuel-production technology, including fabrication of press powder with highly homogeneous plutonium distribution, is needed. At the same time, MOX fuel based on both weapon-grade and regenerated from VVER-440 SNF plutonium types has been already tested successfully in fast breeder reactors (BN-600 and BOR-60).
4.2.4 Handling SNF in Northwest Russia
The northwestern region of Russia has the highest concentration of nuclear reactors in the world. A large quantity of SNF has accumulated in the region. Defueled reactor compartments from decommissioned nuclear-powered submarines (NPSs) are also stored in the region for long periods, moored in bays along the Kola Peninsula. At the same time, storage facilities built mostly in the 1960s to store SNF and radioactive waste are in an unsatisfactory state. Work is needed to
improve and introduce safe techniques and facilities for unloading SNF from floating NPSs;
develop safe techniques for management, long-term storage, and final disposal of reactor compartments from decommissioned nuclear-powered ships;
develop management technologies for treatment of SNF from NPSs with liquid-metal coolant;
develop dismantling technologies for NPSs with damaged reactor compartments; and
build a regional underground facility for radioactive waste storage and a centralized storage facility for long-term storage of unreprocessible SNF.
4.2.5 Managing Liquid HLW
Large amounts of liquid HLW have accumulated at the Minatom radiochemical enterprises. These wastes present serious hazards in the case of accidents or terrorist acts.
Progress has been made in immobilizing HLW from defense and commercial programs, but problems remain. These wastes have highly varied physical properties and chemical composition (e.g., sludge fraction and salt composition) so several technologies may be necessary to deal with the different components. Development of efficient technologies for processing of different types of liquid HLW is needed. This includes sludge-removal techniques for underground tanks. One approach to better matching waste forms and HLW streams is to divide (fraction-
ate) the constituents of HLW, separating the actinides and other radioisotopes into groups with different half-lives.
Work is needed to develop processes for solidification and incorporation of HLW into durable glass-like and crystalline waste forms. This research would seek, select, and develop fabrication technologies for synthesis of highly durable glass-like, glass-crystalline, and crystalline matrices for immobilization of different types of HLW, radioisotopes with similar characteristics, and individual radionuclides. Also needed are studies on the properties of composite materials obtained with different technologies (cold pressing and sintering, cold crucible melting, self-propagating high-temperature synthesis) for selection of the appropriate technology and optimization of the industrial scale fabrication process.
4.2.6 Long-Term Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel
The available reserve capacity for reprocessing in Russia is insufficient for reprocessing the growing SNF inventory. This implies that long-term storage will be needed. Several nuclear power plants with RBMK reactors are running out of storage space for their SNF. There are no plans at this time to ship RBMK SNF from the sites, so additional storage capacity is needed. Adding dry storage for the older SNF would likely be less expensive than expanding the wet storage facilities and would free up space in the cooling pools for freshly discharged SNF, which requires wet storage. Russia will need to expand the storage facility at the Krasnoyarsk MCC facility to accept 9,000 tons of SNF, including that from VVER-1000 reactors. Research is needed to determine time limits for wet storage and to substantiate dry-storage technology with the objective to replace wet storage with dry storage where possible.
4.2.7 Excess U.S. Weapons Plutonium Without a Clear Disposition Path
At least 2 tons of excess weapons plutonium that DOE formerly planned to immobilize have been declared to be of low enough quality (“dirty”) that they cannot follow the new planned disposition path (in Section 2.2) for surplus weapons-grade plutonium and no alternative disposition path has been identified. The actual quantity of this material should be clarified and a disposition path (a method for disposal) should be found for it.
Work is needed to improve existing disposal practices and planning and implementation for the whole disposal system, including transportation and disposal.
Continue detailed studies and repository design for waste disposal at Mayak and Krasnoyarsk
Russia plans to dispose of solidified HLW at PA “Mayak” and at the Krasnoyarsk MCC. The final selection of sites suitable for disposal of HLW, given the highly damaged tectonic structures in these regions, can be made only after obtaining results of some specialized studies that will enable planners to obtain projections about the geodynamic conditions at the locations far in the future. These detailed studies and design activities should continue.
Study isolation of waste injected into deep horizons
Deep well injection disposal is used for low- and intermediate-level waste generated by the radiochemical facilities at Krasnoyarsk, Tomsk, and Dmitrovgrad. Previous investigations (Compton et al. 2000; Parker et al. 1999, 2000; Malkovsky et al. 1999) predict that low- and intermediate-level wastes disposed by injection into the deep, hydraulically isolated aquifers are not likely to reach the biosphere for 1,000 years. If these appraisals are correct, then this approach provides safe disposal for wastes that decay to safe concentrations and quantities in that time. Despite the predictions of isolation, many in the United States and Europe remain skeptical about the practice of deep injection and believe that it should not continue, even with continuous environmental monitoring. Given such disagreements, international teams should continue to study the issue, conducting a comprehensive investigation of the isolation capabilities of the existing disposal wells for liquid radioactive wastes. Meanwhile, Russia should not dispose of high-activity, long-lived wastes as it exhausts the capacity of the existing wells, and Russia should conduct continuous environmental monitoring at these injection sites.
A plan for a deep geologic repository, but little work on transportation of waste to the repository
Extensive planning must be done for the transportation of SNF to a geologic repository at Yucca Mountain, including working with the states and communities along the routes. The need for such planning has been confirmed by the support of several agencies, including the U.S. Department of Transportation and DOE, for a new National Academies study of such transport issues. Participation of states and communities in this planning is important not only because of technical and logistical issues and the need for emergency response but also to begin to build understanding, and possibly acceptance, of DOE’s plans.
4.2.9 Waste Management Strategy
Both the United States and Russia have many programs to deal with SNF and radioactive waste. Development of an integrated strategy should be a high priority. Without such a strategy, resources will be wasted and both safety and proliferation hazards will be left unaddressed. In both countries, an integrated strategy should be developed to incorporate, as noted above, all fuel cycle elements up to the final stages. A strategy for the waste management elements should include identification, stabilization, development of necessary facilities, transportation, and both interim and final end points. See Sidebar 4.2 for an example of an integrated approach.
4.3 AREAS FOR COLLABORATION
Both Russia and the United States have aging nuclear workforces and few replacements. A critical problem for both the Russian Federation and the United States is how to assure the availability of both the current and future supply of expert scientists, engineers, and technicians needed to work on the problems related to management of SNF and HLW. Research and development concerning processing and disposal of HLW and SNF are needed to design and then implement the new strategies that will be required if we are to improve management and disposal of these materials. Significant advances are also needed in areas related to cleanup activities in both nations.
Both Russia and the United States face serious challenges in attracting, training, and retaining the next generation of workers
SIDEBAR 4.2 An Integrated Approach
The committee recommends an integrated approach to planning management of SNF and HLW. Below is an example of the elements of a radioactive waste management program.
All of the elements in categories 2–7 should be designed to achieve or support the overall objectives. For example, under implementation, transmutation could be used to destroy the waste constituents that typically cause the greatest long-term hazard in a repository; the abundant transuranic elements, Np, Pu, Am, and Cm, and two long-lived fission products, Tc and I.
Also under implementation, because decay heat controls much of HLW-repository design, one might consider separating high-heat and low-heat radionuclide fractions. Most of the high-heat fraction is due to five elements: two fission products (Sr-90 and Cs-137), which dominate in the early centuries, and three actinides (Pu, Am, and Cm), which
Control the millennia that follow. The two fractions could be disposed of separately, if the low-heat fraction were acceptable for disposal as intermediate-level waste, disposal could be less expensive. If done in conjunction with transmutation, much of the actinide inventory could be destroyed in power reactors. The shorter-lived high-heat radionuclides, Sr and Cs, would be either stored until they decayed to low levels or disposed of in a special repository, which would be designed for short-lived, high-heat fractions.
that must address problems related to management of SNF and HLW. Science and engineering related to these problems advanced under government sponsorship during the Cold War, so there is now a body of knowledge from which to draw. But few young scientists and engineers are specializing in these areas, which will make progress slow and difficult. One indicator of the supply of relevant scientists and engineers in the United States is the number of students graduating from colleges and universities with bachelors and masters degrees in nuclear engineering who are trained in areas related to fission. This number declined steadily in the 1990s: Between 1992 and 1999, the number of undergraduate students enrolled in nuclear engineering dropped 72 percent, and the number of master’s students dropped 46 percent (Was and Martin 2000). During a slightly shorter period, the number of Ph.D. students dropped by 29 percent (Feidberg and Kazimi 1998). Now the new availability of bachelor’s and master’s graduates in these areas is approximately 150 per year in the United States (Was and Martin 2000). The outlook for production of Ph.D.s in nuclear chemistry of the actinides has been even worsethan in nuclear engineering (see Hoffman 1994). Nuclear engineering and nuclear chemistry are not the only fields in which future workers on SNF and HLW problems are trained, but the committee has informally observed a similar pattern in relevant specialties in other fields, making the prospects for research in these areas discouraging.
The situation is even more alarming when one looks at workers and technicians charged with carrying out the activities. Well-trained workers who carry out their jobs with skill constitute a crucial element of safe operations. Newer and better equipment can reduce the set of possible accidents and can mitigate the consequences of such accidents, but skilled workers who know the equipment well make fewer errors, and their role in safety increases as equipment in Russia and in the United States ages and becomes less reliable. The committee observed on a visit to PA “Mayak” that the organization relies on workers and managers
with decades of experience to operate facilities that show their age.
The United States has faced these problems for many years, but as the numbers of U.S. citizens going into relevant fields such as actinide and separations chemistry, nuclear engineering, and radioecology has diminished, the United States has had the resources to import talent from other countries. This strategy may, however, be unsustainable. Russia faces greater challenges, because people trained in the relevant disciplines often have better economic opportunities in other countries (such as the United States) or in other lines of work in Russia, such as business or computer applications.
The private sector and in particular the nuclear power field is one resource to look to for stimulating employee interest in nuclear fuel and waste management. The nuclear power field is the largest employer of nuclear professionals in most countries that have nuclear power plants. If the focus is put on nuclear energy systems rather than the separate parts of these systems, then the spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste management activities are but an integral part of the total nuclear energy system. This might attract more students and future professionals to management of nuclear waste. Thus, greater collaboration between nuclear power plant professionals and nuclear waste professionals could result in programs and activities to attract students and employees to better cover the entire nuclear energy system.
Nuclear industries anticipate the greatest demand for workers will be for nuclear engineers and health physicists, and specialists-in protecting people and the environment from damaging effects of ionizing radiation. The nuclear power industry has decades of experience in satisfying personnel needs, so it could serve as a resource and a collaborator in ensuring a future workforce.
The committee has not examined options for addressing problems related to the workforce, but individual members’ experience suggest some measures that might be effective:
Federal governments in both countries could encourage both professors and students in these areas with endowed chairs, student fellowships, and other incentives.
In Russia, jobs working on these problems (and in support of work on these problems) could be made more attractive (eco-
nomically or in other ways) to encourage outstanding people at the plants to stay in their positions and help in the training of the next generation.
Internships at the various installations, and prizes and incentives for younger people might help to alleviate the current loss of bright and outstanding students (“brain drain”) to other professions and other countries.
In both countries, the few institutions that support student training and research in relevant disciplines should receive stable and adequate support so that we do not lose the capability to build the expert workforce.
DOE has taken a step to improve the situation in the United States with the recent creation of the Stewardship Science Academic Alliances program. More such steps will be needed in both nations.
Russia and the United States can collaborate on several other important topics of mutual concern:
protecting materials useful in nuclear and radiological weapons;
consolidation of nuclear materials in a few reliably protected sites;
counter-terrorism studies and methods;
development and refinement of technologies for safe and efficient defueling, dismantling, and disposing of decommissioned nuclear-powered submarines;
handling the legacy wastes from nuclear-weapons production;
transportation of spent nuclear fuel;
development of standard, highly durable waste forms for immobilization of different types of HLW;
methods and techniques for extraction of HLW that has been stored in tanks for decades;
development of unified approaches to selection of geological media and sites for the HLW and SNF long-term storage and disposal; and
research and development on methods of processing SNF that produce much less radioactive waste than the PUREX process.
In light of the terrorist attacks that have occurred in the last few years, it is worth reiterating one of the above areas for collaboration, for emphasis. Russia and the United States should prioritize working together to protect nuclear facilities from thefts of nuclear materials and from terrorist acts. The threats are present and the dangers are significant, so action should be taken without delay.
These activities require significant resources. Because funds as well as knowledgeable people are limited, resources should be allocated to the most critical problems first.