Survey of Energy Resources 2007
Nuclear - Spent Fuel and Reprocessing
Annual discharges of spent fuel from the world's reactors total about 10 500 metric tonnes of heavy metal (t HM) per year. Two different management strategies are being implemented for spent nuclear fuel. In the first strategy, spent fuel is reprocessed to extract usable material (uranium and plutonium) for new mixed oxide (MOX) fuel (or stored for future reprocessing). Approximately one-third of the world's discharged spent fuel has been reprocessed. In the second strategy, spent fuel is considered as waste and is stored pending disposal. Based now on more than 50 years of experience with storing spent fuel safely and effectively, there is a high level of confidence in both wet and dry storage technologies and their ability to cope with rising volumes, pending implementation of final repositories for all high-level waste.
As of today, China, France, India, Japan, the Russian Federation and the UK either reprocess, or store for future reprocessing, most of their spent fuel. Canada, Finland, Sweden and the USA have currently opted for direct disposal, although in February 2006, the USA announced a Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) initiative, which includes the development of advanced recycling technologies for use in the USA.
Most countries have not yet decided which strategy to adopt. They are currently storing spent fuel and keeping abreast of developments associated with both alternatives.
In March 2006, final testing for the commissioning of Japan's new Rokkasho reprocessing plant began and is expected to take 17 months. The Rokkasho plant's final product is a MOX powder, which was produced for the first time in November. Commercial-scale production of MOX powder is expected in the second half of 2007. The plant's maximum reprocessing capacity will be 800 tonnes of uranium per year, enough to reprocess 80% of Japan's annual spent fuel production. In China non-radioactive commissioning was completed for the country's first experimental reprocessing plant. Development of new recycling processes is also taking place, e.g. the UREX+ process in the USA to recycle spent nuclear fuel, without separating out pure plutonium, and fabricate the separated transuranic elements into fuel for fast advanced burner reactors.
In 2006, approximately 180 tonnes of civil origin MOX fuel were loaded on a commercial basis in more than 30 PWRs and two Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs) in Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland. The share of MOX fuel assemblies in the core varied from 25% to 50%. No substantial increase in MOX fuel requirements is expected until 2010, when Japan plans to start its 'pluthermal' programme to load MOX fuel in 16 to 18 power reactors. In India, some 50 MOX fuel bundles have recently been irradiated in a Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR 220) on an experimental basis.
Belgonucleaire's MOX fuel plant in Dessel ceased production in August 2006, with decommissioning scheduled for completion by 2013. As a result of this, there remain only two significant MOX fuel fabricators: France and the UK.