Timeline April 1977

On April 7, 1977, President Carter banned the recycling of used, or spent, nuclear fuel from commercial reactors. He asked other nations to do the same to reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation (the spread of nuclear weapons). Before the ban, commercial reactors sent their used fuel to reprocessing plants, where the uranium and plutonium were recycled. The uranium and plutonium could then be used again in a reactor or, as the President feared, in nuclear weapons.

The ban eliminated any immediate need for commercial reprocessing plants, but it meant that additional spent fuel storage facilities would eventually be needed. Today, most commercial reactors store spent fuel on site. Still highly radioactive and thermally hot, spent fuel is usually stored underwater in a deep pool at the reactor site. The water cools the fuel and protects workers from radiation.