Positive Energy

Friday, May 25, 2007

14. Reprocessing

Do you agree or disagree with the Government's views on reprocessing? What are your reasons? Are there any significant considerations that you believe are missing? If so, what are they?

Disagree. Reprocessing to cycle plutonium back into thermal reactors is not practical. It does not close the fuel cycle, and increases resource utilization by no more than 20%, while making the spent fuel harder to deal with. Instead, fast reactors should be built to burn all the accumulated spent fuel and depleted uranium. The appropriate mix of thermal and fast reactors should be established for a sustainable fuel cycle.

A comprehensive discussion of the optimal fuel cycle can be found here:


The UK government has chosen a fuel cycle based on initial fuel enrichment because it wanted to build up both a military and an electricity generating capability. This is now proving to be a liability. The people do not want to live in a world frozen by a nuclear weapons standoff. The UK government should get out of the nuclear weapons game, and concentrate on building up a clean, safe, and reliable electricity generating sector. This would allow the introduction of nuclear reactors that consume natural uranium fuel, combined with fast reactors that fully utilize all the uranium. Reprocessing should be confined to these needs only. Similarly, thorium fuel should be used. This is the kind of electricity industry that people want, one that is not confounded with weapons.

People opposed to nuclear energy routinely distribute articles that associate nuclear powered electricity with nuclear weapons proliferation. Here is an example:

Quote: One can start with the simple fact that WITHOUT NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS, THERE WOULD BE NO NUCLEAR WEAPONS. Hydrogen bombs all use tritium in addition to plutonium and / or uranium, and both the plutonium and the tritium always come from nuclear power plants.

Such statements are so wrong they are difficult to take seriously, but they shift public belief when they are not opposed. The UK government must outlined the fuel cycle that it will allow, including fast reactors and small reactors, and show that this fuel cycle does not support nuclear weapons production. The UK government must prove that its approach prevents weapons proliferation, while extending the international use of nuclear energy. The anti-nuclear lobbyists are claiming that the choice is between having the lights on or dieing in a nuclear Armageddon. The UK government must prove that this is not the choice, and vigorously publicize its strategy so that people can make good decisions based on accurate information about nuclear electricity. Participation in GNEP seems like a good way to further these goals.

The UK government's assumption that only a once-through fuel cycle will be used is short-sighted and wasteful. It raises questions about the amount of uranium available. The UK government would have to show how enough fission fuel will be obtained if this assumption is followed. Instead, a more efficient fuel cycle should be planned for, one that includes fast reactors.


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