Full Title: The Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle
Author(s): M. Kazimi (Co-Chair), E. Moniz (Co-Chair), C. Forsberg, et al.
Publisher(s): Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Publication Date: January 1, 2011
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This study on The Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle has been carried out because of the continuing importance of nuclear power as a low-carbon option that could be deployed at a scale that is material for mitigat- ing climate change risk, namely, global deployment at the Terawatt scale by mid-century.
To enable an expansion of nuclear power, it must overcome critical challenges in cost, waste disposal, and proliferation concerns while maintaining its currently excellent safety and reliability record. In the relatively near term, important decisions may be taken with far reaching long-term implications about the evolution of the nuclear fuel cycle—what type of fuel is used, what types of reactors, what happens to irradiated fuel, and what method of disposal for long term nuclear wastes. This study aims to inform those decisions.
For decades, the discussion about future nuclear fuel cycles has been dominated by the ex- pectation that a closed fuel cycle based on plutonium startup of fast reactors would eventu- ally be deployed. However, this expectation is rooted in an out-of-date understanding about uranium scarcity. Our reexamination of fuel cycles suggests that there are many more viable fuel cycle options and that the optimum choice among them faces great uncertainty—some economic, such as the cost of advanced reactors, some technical such as implications for waste management, and some societal, such as the scale of nuclear power deployment and the management of nuclear proliferation risks. Greater clarity should emerge over the next few decades, assuming that the needed research is carried out for technological alternatives and that the global response to climate change risk mitigation comes together. A key mes- sage from our work is that we can and should preserve our options for fuel cycle choices by continuing with the open fuel cycle, implementing a system for managed LWR spent fuel storage, developing a geological repository, and researching technology alternatives appro- priate to a range of nuclear energy futures.