Posts Tagged ‘Spent Fuel Recycling’

January 5, 2010 | 3:23 pm

National Center for Policy Analysis Finds Nuclear Energy as Best Option for U.S. Energy Future

Construction at MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina

Construction at MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina

A recent report from the National Center for Policy Analysis examines the growing demand for U.S. energy needs and the requirements that this energy comes from a renewable or carbon-free source.  The National Center for Policy Analysis finds in its report that “to meet this growing demand nuclear energy remains one of the safest and more reliable forms of energy available—it also emits no greenhouse gases…Nuclear power is reliable, sustainable, and clean.”

“Solar and wind require backup from coal, natural gas or nuclear power plants for day-to-day baseload power or for on-demand peaking power.  By contrast, the output from nuclear power plants can be adjusted based on user demand and to keep the electricity grid at maximum efficiency.”

“An additional supply of nuclear fuel is readily available, after reprocessing, in the more-than-15,000 plutonium pits removed from dismantled U.S. nuclear weapons.”*

“An even larger fuel supply can be found in spent fuel rods from existing reactors.  Thus, recycling could provide an almost unlimited supply of nuclear fuel in the United State.  Recycling spent fuel would significantly decrease the problem of nuclear waste disposal.  Reprocessing can also be a boon to local communities and create jobs.”

Nuclear power has among the lowest CO2 emissions of all energy sources.  Paul J. Meier of the University of Wisconsin analyzed CO2 emissions from various electric power sources over their entire lifecycle…Meier found that for every gigawatt hour (one billion watt hours) of electricity generated”:
-Coal emits 1,041 tons of CO2 equivalent
-Natural gas emits 622 tons
-Solar emits 39 tons
-Hydropower emits 18 tons
And nuclear power emits only 17 tons of CO2.

Check out the entire report, Nuclear Power and the U.S. Energy Future.

*(AREVA is a partner in the construction of this plant, the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility, currently being built in South Carolina to turn these warheads into fuel for a reliable power supply.)

October 20, 2009 | 12:27 pm

Bloomberg Misses the Point on Recycling

Jeremy van Loon over at Bloomberg has a piece up talking about the “waste problem” that will result from the nuclear renaissance.  He asserts that we don’t have a permanent solution yet for storing used nuclear fuel.  But he glosses over what we think needs to be a major part of the world’s solution managing used fuel – recycling.

What he misses is the enormous waste – pun intended – involved in the U.S.’s current once-through fuel cycle.  He briefly mentions recycling deep down in the article…

Spent fuel is an “opportunity” because it contains un-used energy, said Lisa Price, vice president for the fuel business of GE.

Recycling used fuel into new fuel for reactors is done in a few nations such as France. It’s one solution for the “final storage” of radioactive material, said a spokeswoman at Areva, the biggest reactor builder.

…but doesn’t place enough emphasis on the importance of recycling used nuclear fuel.  We don’t throw cans, bottles, or paper in the trash can anymore, because we realize how wasteful it is to throw away something that could be recycled into more cans, bottles, and paper.  Used nuclear fuel is the same way: isn’t the solution to the massive quantities of used nuclear fuel – fuel that still has a lot of useful energy left in it – to reprocess it and get more energy out of it?

AREVA’s recycling process – which has been proven over decades in France – pulls the useful energy out of that used nuclear fuel, and reduces the rest of the high-level waste to compact and vitrified (glass) logs, which can be stored safely away from the environment.  As AREVA’s EVP Dr. Alan Hanson wrote in his op-ed in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer a couple of weeks ago, recycling could divide “by at least four” the amount of material that would need to be placed in long-term storage.  In addition to reducing the amount of waste – and putting it in a much safer vitrified configuration – recycling spent fuel would give us more useful fuel for nuclear reactors, fuel that’s already being safely used in many countries including France, China, and Japan.

Jeremy van Loon is right to point out that if nuclear power is going to be a part of the world’s long-term carbon-free energy solution, we need a more sustainable solution for managing used fuel.  But we can’t – and shouldn’t – gloss over a process that can
cut the volume of waste for disposal by a factor of four and produce even more useful material to use in reactors.  Recycling absolutely must be a part of our nuclear energy future – and we’re proud to be leading the way in innovation for better, more efficient recycling solutions.

October 8, 2009 | 3:55 pm

Alan Hanson on Recycling in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer


AREVA EVP Dr. Alan Hanson, who’s in charge of our recycling efforts in the U.S., has a great editorial up in the Cleveland Plain Dealer making the case for recycling nuclear fuel as a major part of America’s long-term nuclear energy plans, and pointing out the need to recycle used fuel instead of just letting it all go to waste:

Recycling nuclear fuel is a proven solution that makes waste management easier, conserves natural resources, is cost competitive and reduces proliferation concerns.

Recycling used nuclear fuel reduces the volume of high-level waste for disposal in a repository such as the one envisioned at Yucca Mountain. Only 4 percent of used fuel is high-level waste; the remaining 96 percent can be recycled and reused as fuel for nuclear plants.

Check out the rest of Dr. Hanson’s op-ed over at the Plain-Dealer‘s site.

September 9, 2009 | 5:46 pm

Marvin Fertel: Nuclear Power can meet the demands of climate change

Marvin Fertel of NEI wrote an op-ed in The Hill arguing that nuclear power is uniquely positioned to meet the demands of climate change legislation.   As we continue to need more and more electrical power – even with conservation – and as the need for legislation capping carbon emissions and mandating clean energy becomes more and more apparent, he says, nuclear energy becomes more and more attractive:

Electricity’s reach, of course, has long since eclipsed streetcars. It propels virtually the entire economy and is so vital that there is a discernible statistical correlation between a nation’s reliability of electricity supply and its mortality rate.
Electricity has long since become an inextricable part of our lives. Even with improved efficiency measures, our nation’s need for electricity — including reliable, carbon-free sources such as nuclear power plants — continues to climb.
A host of recent analyses has concluded that the nation’s use of nuclear energy must increase in the coming decades to meet rising electricity demand while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

He argues that Congress needs to take steps to expand the use of nuclear energy and deal with some of the issues that remain with nuclear energy, most notably streamlining the NRC’s licensing process and ensuring the availability of funding through loan guarantees and tax incentives.  
Finally, he writes, that one of the necessary steps for Congress is:

Mandating creation of a blue ribbon commission to re-examine management options for used nuclear fuel, and establishing incentives for state and communities to develop consolidated storage facilities for used nuclear fuel.

We agree that we need to look at better management options – including not just consolidated storage, but recycling.  AREVA has proven used fuel recycling technologies already working at our plants at La Hague and MELOX.  We think recycling should be an integral part of our strategy for dealing with used fuel here in the US as well.

September 8, 2009 | 6:50 pm

Outlook for New Nuclear Plants in the U.S.

By Katherine Berezowskyj

What’s next for nuclear reactors in the United States? Rebecca Smith of the Wall Street Journal just tackled the answer to this question.  Her recent piece, “The New Nukes,” took a look at what’s being developed for the new nuclear reactors and how they are going to “be safer, cheaper, and more efficient than current plants.”

With the majority of Americans seeing nuclear energy as a safe and effective way to battle climate change, Smith puts forward that “if there were ever a time that seemed ripe for nuclear energy in the U.S., it’s now.” Her piece took a fare look at the three key areas ─cost, safety, and waste─ where the nuclear industry has been vulnerable, but is now working to solve with development and deployment of a new generation of nuclear reactors.


Even with past accidents, the safety record of the nuclear energy industry has proved this image wrong by maintaining a rigorous safety program over the past 30 years.  This next generation currently being developed, the Generation III + reactors, “take everything that’s been learned about safe operations and do it even better.”

“Generation III plants cut down on some of that infrastructure and rely more heavily on passive systems that don’t need human intervention to keep the reactor in a safe condition—reducing the chance of an accident caused by operator error or equipment failure.”

One example discussed was AREVA’s EPR™ reactor whose safety features include upgraded active and passive safety systems and a double containment building.  Smith also pointed out that skeptical Union of Concerned Scientists have named it the “only design that is less vulnerable to a serious accident that today’s operating reactors.”

And just as safety has improved with new technology and design developments, so has the cost of new nuclear plants.  They are extending the traditional life of the plants to at least 60 years, and “the new plants are also designed to be much simpler and quicker to build, reducing financing costs by potentially hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The issues regarding what do to with the used nuclear fuel include more options than building a permanent storage facility.  One possibility Smith mentions is the Generation IV fast reactors which are “designed to burn previously used fuel.”

We would like to mention another option for capturing all of the potential energy still remaining in used fuel─ recycling.  For more than 30 years at AREVA’s La Hague facility, we have been recycling used fuel in a process that exponentially reduces the volume of waste for disposal and allows some of the material to be used again as reactor fuel.

Read the whole article for the complete picture.  And be sure to check out the comments posted by readers where the discussion on nuclear energy continues.

To find out more on AREVA’s EPR™ for the United States, check it out on our website.

August 26, 2009 | 5:12 pm

Video from La Hague recycling facility

Here’s an informative video that takes you inside the world’s #1 facility for reprocessing used nuclear fuel. The AREVA La Hague industrial complex, located just west of Cherbourg, has recycled more than 21,000 tons of used fuel since its inception, reducing the need for natural uranium and the amount of radioactive waste.

August 17, 2009 | 2:40 pm

Used Fuel for Thought


In an editorial from the August 16, 2009 The News-Star, Professor Emeritus Ron Thompson opines on the value of nuclear energy to meet an increasing global appetite for energy:

Global energy demands are increasing exponentially. Burning more fossil fuel is not a viable solution. An inescapable fact of burning fossil fuels is that for every 12 pounds of carbon burned, 44 pounds of carbon dioxide are produced. Another inescapable fact is the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been increasing exponentially since the mid-1800s. It is possible that man’s activities can change the atmospheric conditions of the entire planet.

And while he notes how “nuclear reactors now have many successful years of operation and have a proven safety record,” his point is that the current “challenge we face today is what to do with the used fuel after it is removed from a reactor.”

In Thompson’s opinion, “the best solution is to separate the fuel and waste through a reprocessing cycle. The used fuel from a reactor contains about 5 percent radioactive waste and 95 percent nuclear fuel. The most dangerous radioactive wastes with the highest specific activity are short lived and decay to stable elements. Longer lived radionuclides can be transmuted into shorter lived isotopes.”

Read the full piece, “Nuclear fuel reprocessing: the benefits” here.

For more information on AREVA’s recycling efforts and its Back-End Division, click here.

August 12, 2009 | 11:03 am

Power Engineering Article Looks at Recycling Option in the U.S.

Cooling Pool at AREVA's La Hague Recycling Facility

Cooling Pool at AREVA's La Hague Recycling Facility

Power Engineering’s most recent issue included a great piece on the need to rethink the situation for recycling nuclear fuel in the United States.

The article by Senior Editor Nancy Spring points out the key benefits that come from recycling used nuclear fuel. “In ballpark figures, it takes around 30 metric tons of fuel each year to power a 1,000 MW nuclear power plant. That creates 20 tons of waste. Because 96 percent of each fuel assembly is re-useable, with recycling the volume of waste is reduced by a factor of five. Radiotoxicity is reduced by a factor of 10 because the lower the volume of waste, the lower its toxicity. Plus, plutonium is removed from the final waste stream.”

Spring also notes how AREVA “operates the largest nuclear fuel reprocessing/recycling plant in the world. At the La Hague facility in northwest France, spent fuel from 90 to 100 nuclear reactors can be recycled each year, separated into uranium, plutonium and fission products, each one bound for the next use or final storage,” which is why she recently went to interview AREVA’s Remi Coulon.

As the director of the back-end sector, strategy and international projects, he answered some tough questions about the future of nuclear energy and recycling in the United States. “As you see, this won’t happen overnight, but we are honestly convinced that this is a sustainable path worth pursuing. Under appropriate conditions, the industry believes it is possible to privately finance such a project with the right guarantees. This project will fuel the economy for decades with recycled fuel, while contributing to solving a long-lasting national commitment regarding nuclear waste,” Coulon said.

For the complete article and interview, check out Power Engineering.

August 11, 2009 | 9:24 am

Another Q&A on Recycling

Visual examination of rods at AREVA's MELOX, MOX Fuel Manufacturing Facility

Visual examination of rods at AREVA's MELOX, MOX Fuel Manufacturing Facility

Here’s another great question on recycling that was submitted by Max Epstein:

I have heard the argument (including by at least one professor with a related PhD) that the benefits of reprocessing in terms of reducing volume of waste overstate the real benefits, because the reprocessed fuel comes out hotter (or ends up hotter after being run back through a reactor). Since the real constraint on storage capacity of any geologic site would be heat load, not volume of the casks, then the heat issue would be a problem if true. But obviously many experts do not seem to agree with this, which I presume means they do not agree that reprocessing and reusing fuel leads the eventual waste to be hotter. If you could help clear this up it would be much appreciated.

Answer by Gilles Clement, Vice-President of Recycling Technologies, and Dr. Alan Hanson, Executive Vice President of Technology and Used-Fuel Management:


You raise a very good point about the properties involved in used fuel storage. Heat load is indeed one of the most important elements to consider when accommodating spent fuel storage. In an underground repository, the heat load from waste packages emplaced in the galleries must be calculated in order to limit the strain on the repository structure. Such constraint may lead to leave significant open space between adjacent containers to reduce the linear heat load, which is a waste of repository capacity. .

The other point for storage consideration is the radioactive decay of the spent fuel materials and when to place these materials into a storage facility. There are two “heat load peaks” to consider, one due to the “short life” radionuclides and the other one due to the “long life” radionuclides. The short life radionuclide sees its radioactivity significantly diminished shortly, along with heat output, within decades. Waiting to store the spent fuel until this point greatly reduces the heat load to the repository. This same peak for long life atoms takes place much later, and it is practically ineffectual to wait.

When we process used fuel, we separate waste material from actually recyclable material. The waste material is composed of fission products and remaining minor actinides which are vitrified. Such packages generate much less long-term heat because the “major” actinides i.e: plutonium and uranium have been removed for recycling. Consequently vitrified waste packages can be stored much closer, thus maximizing the use of the very expensive repository space.

What you make reference to is probably used MOX fuel. MOX fuel is made from recycled plutonium after being unloaded from a reactor and recovered in a reprocessing plant. And you are right, this fuel comes out from the reactor hotter than the standard uranium used fuel. Used MOX fuel can itself be recycled another time, but there is a limit in the current generation of reactors (called thermal neutron reactors). If used MOX fuel is disposed directly in a repository, then the heat load constraint would inappropriately consume the repository volume. However, used MOX fuel should not be directly bound for storage in an underground repository. Used MOX fuel still contains a great amount of recoverable energy when it is recycled in a “fast neutron” technology reactor. It is a resource for the next generation of reactors which will make the best use of this energy content. Additionally, fast neutron reactors will “burn” the long-lived actinides further improving the optimization of repository volume, a very precious and costly asset.

August 5, 2009 | 4:19 pm

Inquisitive Questions on Recycling

by Gilles Clement, Vice-President of Recycling Technologies, and Dr. Alan Hanson, Executive Vice President of Technology and Used-Fuel Management

Today we’d like to highlight a thought-provoking question about recycling that was asked recently on the AREVA North America blog.

Randal Leavitt asked:

Recycling fission fuel is better than not recycling, but there are other approaches that are better still. My preferred technology is the liquid fluoride thorium reactor. How do we shift the nuclear industry over to this technology?

We definitely agree that recycling used fuel is much better than “throwing it away” (i.e: direct disposal). The ability to shift the nuclear industry to a new technology is really something that is determined by the success of three conditions:
1. It must be proven and demonstrated at large industrial scale
2. It must be economically justified as compared to other alternatives
3. It must be licensed by the appropriate nuclear regulatory authorities

Large scale deployment of new technology requires – as soon as the principles are reasonably well stabilized and enough data from R&D is available – the preparation of a thorough and credible business case to justify the large investments needed to develop it.

To demonstrate that a new technology is fully proven and obtain the final license, one has to go through a lengthy piloting process. This involves designing, building and operating a series of “pilot models” of progressively increasing scale. A first model is developed to evaluate and understand the basic performance of the new technology, and it takes several years to test it rigorously. This first step is followed by incremental increases in the scale and the capacity of the models, (generally two further steps) to reach full commercial production size. The final model is considered as pre-industrial and is used to demonstrate the full range of safety, security and reliability requirements. Today nuclear reactors fueled with thorium have not yet been shown to meet the three conditions.