Communiqué de presse
Paris, 8 January 2002


NEA investigates future options for the nuclear fuel cycle

In a report issued today, the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) offers a fresh look at several paths in the nuclear fuel cycle under development in OECD countries that may further improve the competitiveness and sustainability of nuclear energy in a medium to long-term perspective. This new report is mainly directed at nuclear energy developers and energy policy makers.

While continuing socio-political constraints are influencing the use of nuclear energy, at the same time, the growing concerns expressed over sustainable development and climate change are causing renewed interest in this form of energy. This new report aims at analysing current scientific and technical developments in the nuclear fuel cycle in light of societal demand for more sustainable energy options, using multi-criteria analysis.

A sizeable issue stems from the gap between the public's perception and the expert's opinions on nuclear energy performance, e.g. natural resource management, and health and environmental impacts. The multiple aspects involved in sustainable development call for the establishment of a common set of indicators of such development. The multi-criteria analysis of different nuclear fuel cycle options may be an appropriate tool to improve public confidence by letting people participate in the assessment of options. There is however a need to improve the quantification of the criteria and indicators and the availability of data for new advanced nuclear fuel cycle developments before this methodology may actually fully apply.

The report gives an overview of potential and promising nuclear system developments which aim at meeting sustainability goals and responding to public concerns. The main advantages and the perceived drawbacks are identified. Beyond advanced water cooled reactors and the high-temperature gas-cooled reactors fuel cycles which may reach industrial maturity within the next ten to twenty years, other advanced fuel cycle developments rely on new reactor concepts which may well further reduce the long-term environmental consequences of nuclear power. These new concepts will require, however, substantial long-term R&D efforts in the fuel cycle and will likely take decades to implement; e.g. thorium-fuel cycle and molten salt reactors. Further, some of these fuel cycles, essentially those based on partitioning and transmutation of long-lived radionuclides, may also need to operate for decades or even centuries to realise a significant reduction of the potential radio-toxicity of the waste.

The report emphasises that the reduction of funding of nuclear R&D by governments, as well as the limited potential by industry in today's competition oriented market context to fund long-term R&D, calls for a new reflection. In essence, increased international collaboration of government-funded nuclear R&D is needed in order to fully develop advanced nuclear options within available funding constraints.

Trends in the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Economic, Environmental and Social Aspects
OECD, Paris, 2002 - ISBN 92-64-19664-1 - 157 pages

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