Nuclear energy is attracting renewed public support. It is a virtually carbon-free energy source and can help produce a sizeable percentage of electricity needs in many countries. But while more people are prepared to accept nuclear energy, loving it is not easy, mainly because of the problem of nuclear waste. Treating it, burying it and generally making it safer are ongoing challenges. Can waste be minimised in the first place?
Management of Recyclable Fissile and Fertile Materials takes a look at the inventories of recyclable nuclear materials available worldwide and examines options to re-use them. These include depleted uranium from enrichment plants, uranium and plutonium issued from the reprocessing of spent fuel, plutonium and highly enriched uranium declared excess to national security by Russia and the US, and stockpiles of thorium, a metal considered as an alternative fuel to uranium. The study shows that the amount of potentially recyclable materials currently available could provide fuel for a fleet of current generation light water reactors with a total capacity of at least 100 GWe–that’s roughly all of the nuclear power plants in the US–for nearly 40 years.Furthermore, nuclear energy systems in operation today could produce 50% more energy from the same amount of natural uranium initially mined if recycling options were implemented, namely if spent fuel is reprocessed and the retrieved uranium and plutonium recycled. Moreover, with advanced technologies such as breeder reactors, the energy produced by a unit of uranium mined could be multiplied by 50 or more, and the amount of spent fuel reduced by a similar factor!Although there is no single option for the management of recyclable materials, concerns regarding the security of energy supply, the efficient use of natural uranium and the minimisation of the waste produced, along with technology improvements, suggest new opportunities for breeder reactors. As Management of Recyclable Fissile and Fertile Materials reminds us, all strategies to manage these sensitive and/or very radiotoxic nuclear materials require stringent measures to ensure safety, radiation protection and prevention of proliferation of potentially “weaponable” material. But at least these strategies would lead to much less waste.ISBN 9789264032552
For more information see: http://www.nea.fr
©OECD Observer No 262, July 2007