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Improving Actinides Recycling, a Key Step towards a More Sustainable Nuclear Energy

Abstract : Nuclear energy is thought to be one of the energy sources that could help mitigating the global climate change together with the renewables, due to its low green-house-gases emissions, its reliability and its high load power. However, nuclear energy will only develop if future nuclear energy systems meet the criteria of sustainability in terms of durability, bearability and liveability. Nowadays, many countries chose the so-called once-through cycle which basically considers spent nuclear fuel as a waste, whereas others reprocess their spent fuel to recover the energetically-valuable material Pu (and partially U) to produce Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) to be irradiated in a second cycle (twice-through cycle). Both options can be considered relevant, fitting diverse criteria; but if we consider a long lasting prospective for nuclear options, the once-through cycle sustainability is clearly lower (low consumption of natural resource, no recycling of potentially valuable energetic material, larger volume of waste ). Reversely, twice-through cycle can be seen as a first step towards an improved sustainability with a partial recycling of U/Pu and the reduction of the waste volume and toxicity. However, it is likely not sufficient for the long-term and implementing more efficient recycling is a key-driver to improve the environmental friendship, the economics and the social acceptability of nuclear energy.Future nuclear fuel cycles will have to better preserve the natural resource by improving the actinides recycling, to minimize the volume and toxicity of nuclear waste, to ensure their long-term confinement and to prevent any proliferation-risk. Such a gradual and progressive process calls for implementing appropriate technologies, either for reactors but also for fuel treatment/recycling facilities. This paper will describe the successive step that would allow improving the overall sustainability. Indeed, recycled Pu can be once recycled in MOX fuel feeding similar PWRs (Pressurized Water Reactor). Together with the recycling of reprocessed uranium, this first step already allows preserving approximately 17 percent of the natural U resource and to confine ultimate wastes without Pu in a tailored durable wasteform. Subsequent Pu multirecycling requires introducing Fast Reactors (FR) to efficiently use U-238 available in natural and depleted uranium stockpiles. In parallel, recycling processes would have to be adapted for treating spent LWR and SFR MOX spent fuels, which is currently under study thanks to an ambitious RandD program dedicated on MOX treatment and recycling. For the longer term, minor actinides recycling would allow decreasing the waste burden towards future generations (i) Am-recycling leads to decrease the waste residual heat-power and increase the repository density and lifespan, (ii) Cm-recycling leads to decrease waste long-term toxicity. The stepwise implementation of these different processes defines a path towards sustainability for nuclear energy that are described in this paper from the fuel cycle viewpoint.
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C. Poinssot, S. Grandjean, M. Masson, B. Boullis. Improving Actinides Recycling, a Key Step towards a More Sustainable Nuclear Energy. Waste Management 2015, Mar 2015, Phoenix, United States. ⟨cea-02489506⟩

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