The OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) has released today an important technical study to facilitate informed international discussions on the nuclear fuel cycle. The study has been prepared at the request of OSPAR Commission, established under the international Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic.
This study compares the radiological impacts on the public and on nuclear workers resulting from two approaches to handling spent fuel discharged from nuclear power plants:
the reprocessing option, that includes the recycling of spent uranium fuel, the reuse of the separated plutonium in MOX fuel, and the direct disposal of spent MOX fuel; and
the once-through option, with no reprocessing of spent fuel, and its direct disposal.
The study was prepared under the authority of an NEA committee of senior international radiation protection officials from the 27 NEA Member countries, some with and some without a nuclear industry, as well as from several intergovernmental organisations.
Based on the detailed research of a group of 18 internationally recognised experts, the report concludes that:
The radiological impacts of both the reprocessing and the non-reprocessing fuel cycles studied are small, well below any regulatory dose limits for the public and for workers, and insignificantly low as compared with exposures caused by natural radiation.
The indicative difference in the radiological impacts of the two fuel cycles studied does not provide a compelling argument in favour of one option or the other.
In order to be of generic use, the study assessed the two fuel cycle options on the basis of stylised, representative nuclear facilities. In the scenarios, which are based on pressurised water reactors, the calculated radiological impacts closely match those measured in some actual facilities, thus broadly validating the assumptions made. However, the authors of the study have emphasised that other factors, such as resource utilisation efficiency, energy security, and social and economic considerations would tend to carry more weight in decision-making processes.
This internationally acknowledged report will provide an authoritative technical reference for future policy discussions in OSPAR, and assist the NEA in supporting the policy and decision-making needs of its Member countries. Its wealth of data will serve as an important source for other detailed scientific fuel cycle studies, and as a basis for broader studies of nuclear power development strategies, nuclear fuel cycle strategies and the role of nuclear power in the context of sustainable development.
Impacts of Spent Nuclear Fuel Management Options : A Comparative Study
(662000091P1) Price FF: 215.00 ISBN: 92-64-17657-8
Hans Riotte Head, Radiation Protection and Waste Management Division
Tel.: +33 1 4524 1040 - Fax 33 (0)1 4524 1110
Details of the NEA Report on Radiological Impacts of Spent Nuclear Fuel Management Options
This study includes all parts of both fuel cycle options that are relevant for the comparison of radiological impacts, including uranium mining, different steps of fuel fabrication, power production and reprocessing, as well as transportation and waste. For the reprocessing cycle, it was assumed that the separated plutonium is recycled once (as MOX fuel) for power production.
The following assumptions were made in developing this study:
Both cycles assume simplified fuel cycles for 1000 MW(e)-class pressurised water reactors (PWR).
The long-term stability of tailings from mining and milling is maintained.
There is no extensive use of depleted uranium from enrichment, and no use of separated uranium from reprocessing in either option.
For both options, all waste and spent fuel are disposed of in a repository.
For the reprocessing option, all uranium oxide spent fuel is reprocessed; all plutonium recovered from reprocessing of uranium oxide fuel is recycled as MOX fuel only once; and all waste, including vitrified high level waste and spent MOX, is disposed of in a repository.
This study evaluates the radiological impacts to populations living near nuclear facilities, to the general public and to workers based on the system of radiation protection recommended by the ICRP in its Publication 60 (1991).
In order to assess the radiological impacts of the two fuel cycles, radiological releases are used which are based on normalised, actual radioactive releases from real reference facilities, carefully selected to reflect current good practice in radiation protection. Generic models, using stylised assumptions to characterise the populations exposed by the radioactive discharges, were then used to calculate population doses. It is important to note that these calculations, based on simplified fuel-cycle scenarios were validated against actual results from a few real facilities. In addition, calculated radiological impacts were complemented with results of studies carried out by other national and international organisations.
This study recognises that inherent uncertainties associated with the assumptions made to calculate public exposures are large. In particular, public exposures from mining and milling showed great sensitivity to the study's assumptions that current good practice and technology are applied, and that tailing piles will be stable in the long term. Good practice in the management of mine and mill tailing piles has been demonstrated to result in fairly low emission rates for radon gas, and subsequently low population exposures. Data from previous studies have indicated that these tailing piles can emit tens to hundreds of times more radon than assumed in this study, if not managed by current standards. As an example, a factor of ten increase in radon emissions would result in a factor of ten increase in the doses modelled by the study. While actual data from existing, well-run mines in Canada and Australia indicates that the assumption of the application of good practice is reasonable, numerical results are affected by these uncertainties. In addition, further uncertainties arise because some elements of the simplified fuel cycles adopted for this study are not yet operationally established.
The numerical results of the study are presented in Table 23 of the report (Summary table of dose estimation for the public and workers from major fuel cycle stages of each option). When considering these results, it is instructive to note that, overall, public exposures in both options are low compared to the pertinent regulatory limits, and also insignificantly low compared with exposures caused by natural background radiation (the world-wide average annual individual dose from natural background radiation is 2.4 mSv).
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