The Solicitor General Rohinton Nariman on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that the spent fuel that was discharged from nuclear reactors contained materials that were suitable for recycling.
As much as 97 per cent of the spent fuel could be re-used, he added. Making his submissions in the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant case before a Bench comprising Justices K S Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra, Nariman said that as the spent fuel was recycled and fed back into the reactors, it was a resource rather than a nuclear waste.
Explaining the three-stage process, the SG said the first stage comprised pressurised heavy water reactors where natural uranium was the fuel. The second stage comprised using fast breeder reactors and in the third stage thorium 232 was deployed. India had one of the largest reserves of thorium, he pointed out. The long-term objective was to utilise thorium to provide energy security and energy independence on a sustainable basis, Nariman emphasised.
On the transportation of the spent fuel from the nuclear power plant sites, the Solicitor General said it was transported to reprocessing facilities located within the country. This was being done on international and AERB (Atomic Energy Regulatory Board) guidelines and standards. However, advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioner G Sundarrajan, told the Bench that it would take 10,000 years to clear radioactive levels. And storage of nuclear waste posed a number of daunting problems.
In the United Kingdom, storing nuclear waste cost 2.5 billion pound sterling a year, which was Rs 20 crore per annum. Most countries were phasing out nuclear power plants, he said.
The Bench posted the matter to Tuesday for further hearing.