Global Recycling Day: Learn about spent nuclear fuel recycling

March 15, 2023 8:17 pm Published by

Successfully meeting the nation’s energy needs and climate goals for carbon free energy production will require the construction of new nuclear power plants and a robust role for nuclear energy as part of the nation’s overall energy strategy. Currently approximately 20 percent of the electricity in the United States is created by nuclear energy, but did you know that it’s possible to recycle the spent nuclear fuel from nuclear reactors?

After the nuclear fuel has completed its lifespan in a reactor, the fuel is typically stored in containers near the reactor site. Eventually, the fuel will transported to deep underground geologic repositories, like the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico which is used for disposal of other nuclear waste but not spent nuclear fuel.

“While the near-term priority in nuclear has been on the safe and secure expansion of advanced nuclear reactors, the U.S. government and national laboratory system continues to support research on advanced fuel cycles including advanced fuel fabrication and reprocessing to both overcome the challenges and realize opportunities provided by nuclear energy,” explains Ben Cipiti, a distinguished member of technical staff in Sandia’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle program.

New technologies like advanced reactor designs are opening up possibilities to prolong the use of spent nuclear fuel for energy generation in a safe and sustainable way. The U.S. is leading the rest of the world in the number of advanced reactor startup companies looking to deploy the clean energy systems within the next decade. Some of these designs may be able to utilize reprocessed fuel in the future, if the U.S. decides to move in that direction.

Source: Pennsylvania State University Radiation Science and Engineering Center (public domain)
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