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It’s About Time

It looks like the U.S. is finally getting serious about spent fuel reprocessing.

We’d have less nuclear waste to handle in this country if we did like other nuclear power producing countries and recovered the large quantities of un-spent fissionables spent fuel still contains.

Why…one could call it “recycling“…

3 comments to It’s About Time

  • Paul Dietz

    Most other nuclear power producing countries don’t reprocess either. Some have even abandoned the practice after large investments. The reason is simple: reprocessing makes no economic sense. Even at today’s high uranium prices, it’s cheaper to make fuel elements from fresh uranium than it is to make them from recycled actinides.

    Reprocessing also fails to reduce the cost of disposing of the fission products. It’s much more expensive than just sealing the spent fuel rod bundles in armored cannisters and guarding them.

    Yes, you could call reprocessing ‘recycling’, but, like many of the more conventional activities under that rubric, it would be more of a feel-good than a do-good thing.

  • Aaron_J

    But there are things to consider beyond cost, and I’m not sure that economically we adequately factor long term impacts into the equation. For example, how much additional waste is created from mining and processing of raw ore versus reprocessing?

  • Paul Dietz

    > I’m not sure that economically we adequately factor long term impacts into the equation.

    Long term impacts are heavily discounted. They are essentially irrelevant economically, since their effect on the net present cost declines exponentially with time into the future. They are also irrelevant practically, since simply storing the spent fuel in cannisters does not foreclose any long term options, including reprocessing. It’s not the case that reprocessing has to occur now if it is to occur at all, so if you can save money by waiting, why not wait? If anything, the waste becomes easier to reprocess as it cools. Ultimately, it becomes so cool that it’s a possible small-scale proliferation hazard, but that doesn’t become worrisome for at least a century.