Spent nuclear fuel (SNF), commonly referred to as nuclear waste, is a solid waste form that is produced in today's reactors. It consists of bundles of zircaloy pins containing stacked pellets of uranium oxide. The pins are held together by a stainless steel frame. The solid fuel has a limited lifetime in the core due to a combination of fissile depletion and thermomechanical damage. Upon exiting the reactor, these bundles are placed in a cooling pond for several years before being transferred to dry casks like the ones shown here. Failure of government policy on Yucca Mountain has stranded more than 85,000 metric tons of SNF, and taxpayers have already paid out billions with a liability estimated at >$50B if the state of affairs don't change.


SNF consists mainly of harmless uranium that can be used again for enrichment or returned to the earth. However, it is mixed up with short-lived fission products, and transuranic isotopes that have intermediate half-lives of tens of thousands of years and necessitate geologic storage for hundreds of millennia. However, these transuranic isotopes are fissile and can serve as fuel for fast-spectrum reactors like those that are currently under development.



Nuclear recycling involves separating out the major components of SNF and using/disposing them individually. The result is a major reduction in the quantity of the final waste form and the time for which it remains radiotoxic above background levels. Of course, the remaining fission product waste is short-lived and intensely radioactive requiring appropriate handling and isolation from the environment. Thus, a properly designed recycling plant could greatly reduce environmental risk from nuclear waste and ameliorate nuclear energy's public image.


Polling reveals that majority of U.S. citizens view nuclear power unfavorably, despite being concerned about climate change, and that dealing with SNF remains the primary concern for those who may otherwise approve of greater deployment of nuclear power. To add to the bad news, accumulated SNF has already exceeded the capacity of Yucca Mountain. While DOE pays out billions in settlements at the expense of the taxpayer, some $50B in accumulated payments into the nuclear waste fund (NWF) remain inaccessible behind red tape. Recycling will produce revenue for shareholders while mitigating the government's liabilities.



The fate of legacy SNF has been the bane of commercial nuclear power everywhere. All at once, it represents a failure of government policy, long-term stewardship burden, an incalculable environmental risk, and an opportunity to revive the nuclear industry. Someone will have to do it, at some point or another. We believe that that time is here. Amidst the liabilities and uncertainties of nuclear recycling lies enormous potential for generating billions in revenue and for pushing the limits of what free-market enterprise can accomplish. And Curio is up for the challenge!