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Publication Detail
Reprocessing vs direct disposal of used nuclear fuels: The environmental impacts of future scenarios for the UK
Abstract
The UK recently switched from a “nominal” twice-through cycle - whereby used nuclear fuels were reprocessed, but uranium and plutonium were not routinely reintroduced in the fuel cycle – to a once-through cycle, where used nuclear fuels are stored pending disposal. However, it is also the current strategy to keep other options open, including a twice-through cycle based on a different chemical separation process from the conventional PUREX. This article presents a comprehensive Life Cycle Assessment study of future scenarios for the back-end of the UK nuclear fuel cycle that aims at informing policy- and decision-makers. The study considers the direct disposal approach and four reprocessing scenarios envisaging different strategies for disposal and/or reuse of reprocessed uranium and plutonium, and adopts a consequential approach including only short-term effects. These primarily represent reductions in demand for uranium mining due to recycling of uranium and plutonium, and are modelled upon identification of a marginal technology. Several marginal technologies are explored because of the uncertainty regarding the actual response of the market. Results of the study show that recycling of uranium, but especially of plutonium is of paramount importance because of the avoided burdens associated with production of nuclear fuel from mined uranium. The reprocessing scenarios envisaging reprocessing of used nuclear fuels and recycling of both plutonium and uranium represent the most favourable options. The direct disposal approach may be advantageous only in terms of radiological impacts depending on the marginal technology chosen.
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Dept of Chemical Engineering
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Dept of Chemical Engineering
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