Reprocessing

Reprocessing refers generally to the processes used to separate spent nuclear reactor fuel into nuclear materials that may be recycled for use in new fuel and material that would be discarded as waste. There are no commercial reprocessing facilities currently operating in the United States, but there are commercial facilities operating in other countries.

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Background

In 2007, the Commission directed the staff to complete an analysis of Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations (10 CFR) to identify regulatory gaps for licensing an advanced reprocessing facility and recycling reactor.

In mid-2008, two nuclear industry companies informed the agency of their intent to seek a license for a reprocessing facility in the U.S. An additional company expressed its support for updating the regulatory framework for reprocessing, but stopped short of stating its intent to seek a license for such a facility. At the time, the staff also noted that progress on some Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) initiatives had waned and it appeared appropriate to shift the focus of the staff's efforts from specific GNEP-facility regulations to a more broadly applicable framework for commercial reprocessing facilities.

In 2013, the staff issued SECY-13-0093, which provided the Commission options and resource estimates for updating the NRC's regulatory framework for licensing a reprocessing facility.  The SRM for this SECY instructed the NRC staff to develop a reprocessing-specific rule in a new part of the Commission's regulations but directed that the continued development of the framework should be limited in scope - for the time being - to the resolution of Gap 5, "Safety and Risk Assessment Methodologies and Considerations for a Reprocessing Facility."  The SRM also directed the staff to provide a notation vote paper presenting the results of this limited-scope effort, as well as recommendations on next steps. 
 
In 2021, the staff issued SECY-21-0026, which provided that the NRC staff's assessment that a continued rulemaking effort was not currently justified, as there was limited interest expressed or expected from potential applicants for reprocessing facilities, including advanced reactor designers, in the near-term use of reprocessed spent fuel.  The Commission approved the staff’s recommendation in the SRM for SECY-21-0026.

Regulatory Timeline
2006 - Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) initiative launched, with the goal of establishing domestic reprocessing and burner reactor capability and take-back of spent fuel from foreign countries.
2007/2008 - Congress reduced GNEP funding
2009 - Domestic aspect of GNEP ended, but DOE moved ahead with reprocessing research and development. Industry remained interested in domestic reprocessing
2008 - 2013 - NRC received letters from four companies supporting an update of the reprocessing regulatory framework
2009 - NRC conducted a gap analysis of the reprocessing regulation for expanding 10 CFR Part 70.  This analysis was documented in SECY-09-0082. 23 gaps identified (14 high priority, 5 medium priority)
2011 - Draft Regulatory Basis, provided in SECY-11-0163. 19 high & medium priority gaps addressed. New Part 7x recommended for reprocessing, technology neutral rule to address large reprocessing facilities with an annual throughput of about 1000 MT of spent fuel.
2013 - Staff provided the Commission its resource estimate for completing 10 CFR Part 7x rulemaking activities in SECY-13-0093.  The SECY discussed options to address 23 regulatory gaps with a budget of an estimated ~57 FTE + $12 million, which would include developing associated guidance documents.
2013 - Although the Commission approved development of a reprocessing specific rule, approval was limited to only completion of the regulatory basis for Gap 5 (Safety and Risk Assessment Methodologies and Considerations for a Reprocessing Facility) in SRM-SECY-13-0093.
2016 - NRC suspended work on Part 7x rulemaking due to budgetary constraints and apparent lack of industry interest in constructing and operating a commercial spent fuel reprocessing facility in the United States
2020 - NRC held a public meeting on March 4 to obtain stakeholder input on the degree of interest in constructing, operating, and licensing a spent fuel reprocessing facility. NEI and industry representatives supported the continuation of rulemaking for clear and stable regulatory framework, but did not indicate plans to submit a reprocessing facility application in the foreseeable future (10-20 years). Other stakeholders did not want continued rulemaking because of proliferation and other concerns.
2021 - SECY issued on March 5 to discontinue rulemaking, based on limited interest expressed or expected from potential applicants for reprocessing facilities in the near-term use of reprocessed spent fuel. The rule is not currently cost-justified and the existing regulatory framework is considered adequate for near-term licensing needs.
2021 - SRM approved SECY on June 24, 2021.
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Related Commission Papers (SECY)

Document number Description Date
SECY-21-0026 Discontinuation of Rulemaking—Spent Fuel Reprocessing 03/05/2021
SECY-13-0093

Reprocessing Regulatory Framework – Status and Next Steps

08/30/2013
SECY-11-0163 Reprocessing Rulemaking: Draft Regulatory Basis and Path Forward 11/18/2011
SECY-09-0082 Update on Reprocessing Regulatory Framework – Summary of Gap Analysis 05/28/2009
SECY-08-0134 Regulatory Structure for Spent Fuel Reprocessing 09/12/2008
SECY-07-0198 Performance and Coordination of the Regulatory Framework for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership 11/07/2007
SECY-07-0081 Regulatory Options for Licensing Facilities Associated with the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership 05/15/2007
SECY-06-0066 Regulatory and Resource Implications of a Department of Energy Spent Nuclear Fuel Recycling Program 05/16/2006

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Related Staff Requirement Memoranda (SRM's)

Document number Description Date
SRM-SECY-21-0026 Staff Requirements – SECY-21-0026 – Discontinuation of Rulemaking—Spent Fuel Reprocessing 06/24/2021
SRM-SECY-13-0093

Staff Requirements – SECY-13-0093 – Reprocessing Regulatory Framework – Status and Next Steps

11/04/2013
SRM-SECY-07-0081 Staff Requirements – Regulatory Options for Licensing Facilities Associated with the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) 06/28/2007
SRM-SECY-06-0066 Staff Requirements – Regulatory and Resource Implications of a Department of Energy Spent Nuclear Fuel Recycling Program 05/16/2006

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Public Meetings other Interactions

The following table lists, in chronological order, the public meetings that the NRC staff has conducted to discuss the regulatory efforts regarding reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.

Public Meetings and Other Interactions
Meeting Date Subject
03/04/2020 Public Meeting for Spent Fuel Reprocessing Rulemaking

06/21/2011
and
06/22/2011

Public meeting to discuss potential rulemaking for spent nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities.

Presentations

Handout

Public comments

10/19/2010
and
10/20/2010

Public workshop to discuss major issues associated with the development of a regulatory framework for a potential rulemaking for spent nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities (Albuquerque, NM).

Transcripts

Presentations

Meeting Summary
08/07/2010
and
08/08/2010

Public workshop to discuss major issues associated with the development of a regulatory framework for a potential rulemaking for spent nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities (Rockville, MD).

Transcripts

Presentations

Handouts

Meeting Summary

05/13/2010 Public meeting with NRC staff and NEI representatives to discuss NRC's ongoing activities related to revising the regulatory framework for spent nuclear fuel reprocessing. The meeting included the following presentations from NRC staff and NEI representatives:
10/28/2009 Public meeting to address:
  • Waste Discussions related to regulatory gaps – including definitions of High Level Waste and Waste Incidental to Recycling; waste classification: waste confidence, independent storage of UNF and HLW, and definitions of additional terms
  • Safeguards Issues – including reprocessing facility exemption from Cat. 1 requirements, material accounting management, advanced fuel cycles and SNM, and risk-informing parts 73 and 74
09/18/2009 Public meeting to discuss the current work being done to develop a regulatory framework for reprocessing. The meeting included the following presentations from NRC management and staff:
02/26/2009

Meeting with Nuclear Energy Institute on its White Paper regarding a proposed regulatory framework for licensing spent fuel reprocessing facilities.

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Related Technical Presentations

Seminar Date Subject
12/08/2010

DOE Seminar on Reprocessing – Transmutation

07/28/2010

DOE Seminar on Reprocessing - 40 CFR Part 190

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Reprocessing Framework Schedules

Staff's Preliminary Plan for Gap Resolution

Gap Description Sample Timeline ***
Year
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1 Regulatory Framework (Complete)                                        
2 Independent Storage of High Level Waste                                        
3 Waste Incidental to Reprocessing                                        
4 Exclusion of Irradiated Fuel Processing Facilities in 10 CFR 74.51 (*)                                        
5 Risk Considerations for production facility                                        
6 Definitions                                        
7 Licensed Operators and Testing                                        
8 Risk-Informed 10 CFR Parts 73 and 74 (**)                                        
9 General Design Criteria                                        
10 One-Step Licensing and ITAACs                                        
11 Technical Specifications                                        
12 Financial Protection Requirements                                        
13 Schedule of Fees                                        
14 Annual Fees                                        
15 Waste Confidence                                        
16 Waste Classification                                        
17 Diversion Path Analysis                                        
18 Material Accounting                                        
19 Effluent Control and Monitoring                                        

(*) Addressed through ongoing 10 CFR Part 74.51 rulemaking approved by Commission

(**) In this context, risk informing means staff will evaluate 10 CFR Part 73 and 10 CFR Part 74 for any changes needed to support reprocessing licensing

(***) Assuming resources of 2 FTE per year

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Tuesday, January 25, 2022