Investment and International Aspects of the Problem of Spent Nuclear Fuel Management
Vitaly P. Keondjian and Michael A. Zhdanov
Association for Nonproliferation and Ecological Improvement
Our presentation builds upon the idea of providing services in Russia for storing and safeguarding spent nuclear fuel (SNF) coming from those countries where dealing with SNF is either impossible or not economically viable. Proceeds from the sale of this service will be managed by private organizations, the Nonproliferation Trust in the United States, and by our association in Russia. They will be used for improving fissile materials security and for ecological, restoration, and social programs in Russia.
In these areas our association has identified 49 regional programs relevant to our interests that are approved both by our U.S. partners and by respective regional authorities in Russia. The benefits for Russia will greatly outweigh the risks of dealing with additional amounts of SNF. Further development of these regional projects, specifically, preparing business plans for them, is one of the areas where funding will soon be required. Our association has developed a strategy to finance this work. How soon this occurs depends on the international aspects of the SNF management problem. The international aspects affect virtually all investment decisions concerning importing SNF to Russia because risks and returns depend greatly on the political situation in the world.
We will focus now on international aspects of the SNF management problem. A concrete model for attracting private investment to this project is being developed by our association in cooperation with our U.S. partners, and it may be discussed in person after the talk.
International SNF problems are broken down here into two parts: the problems of nuclear superstates and the problems of other countries dealing with nuclear energy. At the end of the Cold War, the United States and Russia faced additional SNF problems with the decommissioning of unneeded nuclear weap-
ons, removal from service of excess naval vessels and their support systems, and cleaning up of defense waste sites. The latter issue is especially keen in Russia due to its totalitarian past, which resulted in the worst nuclear contamination in the world. One additional common problem is the need to consolidate SNF to protect it against terrorist attacks. To ease this problem the Yucca Mountain repository will begin to operate in 2010. This will not, however, entirely solve the problem, as much more waste has already been accumulated in the United States than can be handled at the repository.
There are substantial differences in the U.S. and Russian approaches to the problem of SNF management. While reprocessing and recycling are not banned in Russia, they are in the United States. The reconciliation of this problem is interim storage, which defers the decision. This leaves the doors open for recycling the SNF in the future, when appropriate technologies are safe and efficient.
In other countries dealing with nuclear energy the situation is even worse than in the United States. The SNF is widely dispersed, and the related risks are high. While Russia is capable of providing valuable services to the nuclear community, dealing with many countries is a difficult and lengthy process. The good news is that 80–90 percent of all SNF in the world is virtually controlled by just one country, the United States. Therefore, U.S.-Russian cooperation is extremely important to the entire world.
The SNF problem is acute now, and what are the prospects for the future? We cannot agree with an earlier presentation in which it was argued that nothing will change substantially in the next 10 years because existing energy infrastructure is based upon fossil fuels. First, nuclear energy fits well into the existing energy infrastructure. Second, the Kyoto Protocol shows that the public wants greenhouse gas reduction, and governments usually do what the public wants. Third, a hydrogen fuel cell engine will be developed in the near future; in fact, development is near completion. There are experimental buses and cars in Vancouver driven by hydrogen. The share of renewable energy is growing tremendously. We expect the growth rate of nuclear energy production to increase dramatically as soon as economic mechanisms enforcing the Kyoto Protocol come into play. Therefore, the SNF problem will be aggravated.
SNF-related problems are broken down here into political, economic, social, and technical issues. Economic problems are briefly considered here along with major political issues.
The amounts of SNF in many countries are not sufficient to make national SNF management economically viable. The costs of qualified human and natural resources are different. Exporting SNF to Russia would enforce economies of scale and scope. The costs of qualified human and natural resources are competitive in Russia.
Global political benefits of SNF management are significant contributions to nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, increased security against terrorist attacks, adherence to the Kyoto Protocol through encouraging nuclear energy pro-
duction free of greenhouse gas emissions, and reduction in the risks of radioactive contamination. Cooperation between the United States and Russia is the most effective and efficient way to address these global political, economic, and social issues.
The best way to enforce this cooperation is through private-public partnership (PPP). This means private management under the U.S.-Russian agreement plus continuous consultations and problem solving in close cooperation with the governments of both countries and their respective agencies. PPP is a blend of international security, ecological improvement, and commercial interests.
The benefits of private versus public management are well understood in the United States, and the idea of private involvement is also becoming more popular in Russia. Minister Ryumiantsev of Minatom spoke recently about the necessity of private-sector involvement in and even partial privatization of the Russian nuclear industry.
U.S.-Russian SNF cooperation is highly beneficial to both countries and to the entire world.
The importance of U.S.-Russian cooperation is important beyond any other political or economic issues, such as Iraq or Iran, and it should not be used by either the United States or Russia to affect the other party in a way that may jeopardize this cooperation.
The leadership of nuclear superstates should come to an understanding of the precedence of this problem over other national interests of the United States and Russia.
A team of recognized experts in politics, security, and economics should be organized to prepare a report to the top leadership of the United States and Russia that will serve as a basis for the U.S.-Russian agreement to cooperate in the area of SNF management. (Our association, along with its U.S. partner, has already started working on organizing this team and has attracted to the project Harvard and Rice universities in the United States and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. To finance their work on this report as well as the respective research, private investment in this project is now required.)