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Areva sees nuclear waste recycling planning by 2015

General view of the Areva combustible fabrication plant in Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux
General view of the Areva combustible fabrication plant in Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux

By Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Areva hopes that by 2015, it can start planning construction of a facility for recycling nuclear waste in the United States, an executive for the French nuclear power company said on Monday.

Jacques Besnainou, head of Areva's North American unit, said the company was in discussions with several utilities about forming an alliance to advocate for a recycling center.

"We're hopeful that we can start planning for such a facility by 2015," Besnainou told reporters at a briefing held by The Energy Daily, a trade publication.

Once planning began, it would take about 10 years to get a facility up and running, he said.

Interest in nuclear waste recycling has grown since Japan's nuclear crisis exposed the dangers of storing waste at power plants indefinitely, Besnainou said.

"One of the things we're discovering in Fukushima is leaving used fuel in ... a spent fuel pool may not be a very wise decision," he said.

Efforts to regain control of Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex have been hampered by the overheating of pools containing spent fuel.

KICK THE CAN DOWN THE ROAD

There is no law against building a nuclear recycling center in the United States, but Besnainou said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would need to devise regulations for a facility.

He said it would help if the United States created an agency focused on handling nuclear waste that could help fund and plan a recycling center.

Areva has said it would cost about $25 billion to build a recycling center in the United States. Besnainou suggested part of the funding for the project could come from the federal government's Nuclear Waste Fund, which brings in about $750 million in fees annually from U.S. ratepayers.

The United States has no permanent storage site for nuclear waste. The Obama administration shelved the long-delayed Yucca Mountain, Nevada spent fuel dump. The Yucca Mountain waste dump was opposed by Nevada residents but supported by Republicans and lawmakers from states holding significant amounts of nuclear waste.

Besnainou said a recycling center would be preferable to developing interim storage sites, such as those being considered by the Obama administration's Blue Ribbon commission on nuclear waste.

"When you do a recycling center, you're being part of the solution. You're taking care of the fuel, you're making the fuel less dangerous," Besnainou said. "Interim storage is kicking the can down the road."

The amount of used fuel left over after recycling is much less than the United States must manage now, and having a recycling center would delay the need to decide on a permanent storage site by at least 50 years, Besnainou said.

(Editing by Dale Hudson and David Gregorio)

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