America does not reprocess spent nuclear fuel; could a foreign nation just buy ours?

if that stuff has an objective economic value that cannot be extracted under American law, why isn’t it being exported somewhere else where they have no scruples about it? Let’s say why don’t China or Russia buy our spent fuel and use it in their breeder reactors?

Is it legal to export it?

I thought part of the problem with reprocessing is that you get plutonium, which is usable as a very nasty weapon in a few different ways, (actual nukes, dirty bombs, straight poisoning, have I forgotten any?)

If that’s the reason Americans don’t want to extract it themselves, I can’t see that they’d trust any other nation to handle it safely and not use it the wrong way.

Even if Canada wanted to buy it, I think a lot of folks would get worried just about the prospect of trucks carrying the stuff from here to there.

well, China has plutonium of its own, as do Russia, Japan and probably other nations with mature nuclear industry. What “wrong” use can they do with American plutonium that they cannot do with what they already have?

As Chronos pointed out, the logistics of getting the spent fuel to one of those nations poses risks of theft by a third party or accidental spillage that doesn’t apply on the same level to them working with their own spent fuel.

But in general, if China is already reprocessing spent fuel from its own nuclear reactors, then that’s already something that the USA is not generally happy about, I’d say. Not so much that they’re worried that the Chinese government, itself, might use plutonium weapons against the USA, (though that wouldn’t be good,) but that dissidents or terrorists of some sort might steal if from the Chinese reprocessing/power plants.

On the other hand, America can’t really stop China from doing what it wants with its own nuclear plants. (If it could, then it wouldn’t let China have any in the first place, I think. :wink: ) But they can keep from letting their own spent fuel add to the situation. If China is processing its fuel and America’s, then it becomes more likely that somebody’s going to steal some of it, or that when a theft does happen, it will likely involve more.

I am not an expert in nuclear politics - most of this I probably absorbed from Wikipedia and ‘the west wing.’ Reader beware.

I think the point, way back when the decision was made, was to discourage other nations from reprocessing the spent fuel. The US could hardly tell France not to reprocess if the US was doing exactly that. Obviously the effort to halt reprocessing didn’t work, but apparently it isn’t worth opening the discussion again. I doubt anyone can really make money reprocessing fuel-too many radioactive waste products that have to be cared for, but it would be a marginal operation at best. And it wouldn’t generate much if any political/environmenta/diplomatic advantages to the US. The small amount of $ it would make someone is unlikely to justify the effort.

Well…France reprocess the fuel from a variety of countries (including, if I’m not mistaken, Japan), so the logistics of the transport doesn’t seem to be that much of a problem.

Here is the fleet of ships used to transport reprocessed fuel between the UK, France and Japan. The ships are armed and presumably also escorted.

This is the key - it is not clear its economic value is positive. Yes, more fuel can be processed from the spent fuel but will the value of this fuel be greater than the cost of transport (with all the security implications noted), building and operating the reprocessing plant (not at all cheap or easy), and dealing with the resulting highly active waste.

So far it is cheaper, or at least easier, to just mine more uranium.

Currently, just the opposite is happening - the US imports spent fuel from a number of foreign reactors. The reasons for this, however, are political, and not economic (it’s part of the non-proliferation program).