Almost all of the commercial spent nuclear fuel in the United States is stored at commercial nuclear reactor sites where it was generated — either in water-filled fuel pools or in dry cask storage systems. SNF is stored at each of the 104 commercial nuclear power plants licensed to operate as well as 9 sites where commercial nuclear reactors have been shutdown and are no longer operating. Commercial SNF is stored at one or more locations in 33 states.
In the US as of the end of 2011, approximately 50,000 metric tons of commercial SNF is store in wet pools and approximately 15,000 metric tons is stored in dry casks. To put this volume in a real-world perspective, if all the commercial SNF in the US were collected in one place, it would fill a football field to a depth of about 20 feet. Each commercial nuclear reactor in the US uses about 20 metric tons of uranium fuel per year, and the industry as a whole generates between 2,000 and 2,400 metric tons of SNF annually.
The growth in the amount of SNF storage in the US is highly dependent on the extent to which existing nuclear power plants continue to operate, and for how long. In addition, the amount of SNF to be generated over the next several decades depends on whether new nuclear power plants are granted licenses to operate, how many new plants will be licensed, and the length of time they will operate. On the two extremes of “no growth” and “high growth” it is anticipated that the amount of commercial SNF stored in the US by 2050 will be between 150,000 and 200,000 metric tons — double to triple the amount that currently exists. In fact, if all the commercial nuclear power plants in the US were shut down today, about 75,000 metric tons of SNF would require storage (this figure includes the SNF currently being used to power the reactors).