By Katherine Berezowskyj
Industry experts discussed the importance of the nuclear fuel life cycle today in the latest session of the ongoing series, The American Nuclear Energy Revival, hosted by the U.S. Energy Association, The Sept. 23 briefing examined the steps of nuclear fuel cycle from mining to uranium enrichment to used fuel recycling.
Discussing uranium mining, Grant Isaac of Cameco, explained the operations involved to obtain the natural resource – exploration, mining, milling, and conversion – and emphasized the important of sustainability and life cycle environmental impact. Isaac pointed out a common misconception regarding the scale that mining’s impact on the environment. Compared to other energy sources, uranium is quite small. Specifically, he pointed out that uranium mine covering one square mile, such as one Cameco operates in Canada, yields the same amount of energy as produced by 71 billion barrels of oil or 17 billion tons of coal.
From UX Consulting Company, Ruthanne Neely discussed the global enrichment market. While current capacity does not meet U.S. demand, Neely explained that AREVA and Urenco have two centrifuge enrichment facilities under various stages of development that will add domestic capacity to the U.S. market. She noted that this growth will be rivaled by the Russians and the Chinese as they expand their enrichment resources and build more nuclear reactors.
On the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle, AREVA’s Dr. Alan Hanson discussed that with Yucca Mountain off of the table, and with the growing nuclear revival, he recommended that the United States make a more sustainable decision for managing its used fuel. While dry-cask storage is a safe approach for the interim, he noted that recycling as part of integrated fuel management presents a solid option.
Hanson explained that the countries with large nuclear generation that have chosen to recycle used fuel have done so, because it enhances the security of supply. In effect, recycled nuclear fuel offers a domestic source of material for nations that are reliant on imports. The other benefits he listed include making final waste management easier, conserving natural resources, and supporting non-proliferation objectives.
More importantly, Hanson pointed out that finding a solution is a social responsibility, and these materials should not be left for the next generation. Americans recycle soda cans and newspapers even though it is not necessarily less expensive and no shortage of these resources exists.
Check out more information on these aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle and AREVA’s operations in each: mining, enrichment, and recycling.