Environmental impact of the nuclear fuel cycle
Nuclear power provides approximately 17% of the world’s electricity, which is equivalent to a reduction in carbon emissions of ∼0.5 Gt of C/year. This is a modest contribution to the reduction of global carbon emissions, ∼6.5 Gt C/year. Most analyses suggest that in order to have a significant and timely impact on carbon emissions, carbonfree sources, such as nuclear power, would have to expand total energy production by a factor of three to ten by 2050. A three-fold increase in nuclear power capacity would result in a projected reduction in carbon emissions of 1 to 2 Gt C/year, depending on the type of carbon-based energy source that is displaced. This paper reviews the impact of an expansion of this scale on the generation of nuclear waste and fissile material that might be diverted to the production of nuclear weapons. There are three types of nuclear fuel cycles that might be utilized for the increased production of energy: open, closed, or a symbiotic combination of different reactor types (such as thermal and fast neutron reactors). Within each cycle, the volume and composition of the nuclear waste and fissile material depend on the type of nuclear fuel, the amount of burn-up, the extent of radionuclide separation during reprocessing, and the types of material used to immobilize different radionuclides. This chapter is a discussion of the relation between the different types of fuel cycles and their environmental impact.
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Energy, Waste and the Environment: a Geochemical Perspective
This book provides incentives for further development of sustainable fuel cycles through a novel and interdisciplinary approach to an Earth science-related topic. The main focus is on geochemical concepts in immobilizing, isolating or neutralizing waste derived from energy production and consumption. The book also addresses the issue of using some types of energy-derived waste as alternative raw materials. Moreover, it highlights research on how certain wastes can be used for energy production, an increasingly important aspect of modern integrated waste management strategies. The main objectives are to: (a) identify the most serious environmental problems related to various types of power generation and associated waste accumulation; (b) present strategies, based on natural analogue materials, for the immobilization of toxic and radioactive waste components through mineralogical barriers; (c) discuss modern procedures for reuse of waste or certain waste components; and (d) review the importance of geochemical modelling in describing and predicting the interaction between waste and the environment.