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Nuclear Fuel Cycle

January 21, 2008
By Jürgen Kreusch, Wolfgang Neumann, Detlef Appel and Peter Diehl

Nuclear Issues Paper No. 3
By Jürgen Kreusch, Wolfgang Neumann, Detlef Appel and Peter Diehl

The complete paper (53 pages, 227 KB, pdf) can be downloaded here.


The use of nuclear energy involves the work of several very different industrial plants. Each of these plant types has a specific hazardous potential. It starts with the dust in uranium mines, continues with potential and actual radioactive burdens in cases of normal operation, accidents for workers in the nuclear facilities or people living nearby, and ends with the possible contamination of groundwater in a final repository for radioactive waste.


Radioactive waste is produced in every nuclear facility. The waste can be categorized as low-active (LAW), medium-active (MAW) and high-active (HAW). Compared with the other two categories, HAW represents a small amount in volume but it concentrates some orders of magnitudes of the activity. The main parts of HAW are the spent fuel for “direct” final disposal, the vitrified fission products from reprocessing and, in a reactor, activated materials. LAW and MAW are generated on a larger spectrum. The quantity of the waste depends on the reactor type and the requirements for the waste management, including final disposal; these factors differ depending on the country. For example a 1,300 MWe pressure-water reactor in Germany produces about 60 m3 LAW and MAW as well as about 26 Mg of spent fuel every year. Through to decommissioning, this reactor produces 5,700 m3 LAW. For the use of nuclear energy, considering the operational limitation of 35 years per reactor, about 300,000 m3 of total waste for final disposal is predicted for Germany.

With or without reprocessing, a repository for the final disposal of radioactive waste is necessary. That is true not only for the large amount of LAW and MAW but also for spent fuel, because up until now, mixed-oxide spent fuel has not been reprocessed on an industrial scale. Only in France is it done on a small scale. No repository for HAW and spent fuel is available anywhere in the world. Repositories for LAW and MAW are in operation in some countries with large nuclear programs. It is absolutely necessary that a final disposal repository be built as quickly and as safely as possible for all countries using nuclear energy. Final disposal should offer more safety than other options if the disposal site is careful chosen and constructed. The negative burdens of nuclear energy must be managed.