Gas Centrifuge Cascade
Internationalization of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Goals, Strategies, and Challenges
Report, The National Academies Press
September 30, 2008
The so-called nuclear renaissance has increased worldwide interest in nuclear power. This potential growth also has increased, in some quarters, concern that nonproliferation considerations are not being given sufficient attention. In particular, since introduction of many new power reactors will lead to requiring increased uranium enrichment services to provide the reactor fuel, the proliferation risk of adding enrichment facilities in countries that do not have them now led to proposals to provide the needed fuel without requiring indigenous enrichment facilities. Similar concerns exist for reprocessing facilities.
In 2006, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, and U.S. President George W. Bush announced plans to assure the provision of fuel to countries that want to develop nuclear power. The proposals were aimed at dissuading these countries from building uranium enrichment plants because such plants could be used to produce weapons-usable highly enriched uranium. In the spring of 2006, members of the Committees on International Security and Arms Control of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), which have had a productive partnership for more than 25 years, met with each other, with senior officials in their respective governments, and with Director General ElBaradei to identify issues of national and international importance on which independent advice from the two academies would be useful.
With funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, two committees with members appointed by the NAS and the RAS, working jointly, produced this report analyzing the proposals and options for future international nuclear fuel cycles, including the incentives that might be required for countries to accept the fuel assurance guarantees and not develop enrichment or reprocessing facilities, as well as technical issues. The statement of task for this study can be found in Appendix A. The task notes that this report is not intended to cover the policy and technical aspects of international fuel cycles comprehensively. Rather, the committees summarize key issues and analyses, offer some criteria for evaluating options, and make findings and recommendations to help the United States, the Russian Federation, and the international community reduce proliferation and other risks as nuclear power is used more widely.
This report is intended for all those who are concerned about the need for assuring fuel for new reactors and at the same time limiting the spread of nuclear weapons. This audience includes the United States and Russia, other nations that currently supply nuclear material and technology, many other countries contemplating starting or growing nuclear power programs, and the international organizations that support the safe, secure functioning of the international nuclear fuel cycle, most prominently the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The fuel assurance proposals have been discussed in conferences and journal articles. However, to receive input from the countries that might use the fuel assurance program, the committees held a meeting at the IAEA in April 2007 where people from eight countries presented their opinions or comments on the fuel assurance programs. While not officially representing their governments, these experts provided valuable insights into the issues that must be addressed for the fuel assurance programs to succeed. Appendix B of the report contains the summary of the workshop. The committees also addressed technologies being developed for new approaches to reprocessing (also called recycling and regeneration) and possible advanced reactors. While these discussions are necessarily limited due to the technologies being in the early stages of development or existing only as concepts, some advantages and disadvantages are discussed.
The committees addressed the different elements of the statement of task at different levels. Much of Part B of the task calls for comparisons of technologies in Russia with those envisaged in the United States. The U.S. Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) comprises two initiatives from U.S. President Bush. One is an international initiative beginning with an accord expressing the signatories’ guiding principles for expansion of nuclear power. The other is a domestic nuclear energy and fuel cycle technology initiative with seven different goals. The international initiative has garnered dozens of partners. The domestic technology initiative has shifted its focus, emphasis, and timeline several times over the course of the study. These changes were significant, from switches among advanced fuel processing technologies that are mostly in the research phase and evolutionary commercial fuel-processing technologies to different fuels manufactured with as-yet-to-be-developed technologies. For these reasons, the committees were unable to compare the concrete Russian technological options with the multitude under consideration in GNEP. Because the Russian approaches have been developed more fully and in many cases the Russian government has selected particular approaches for deployment, these approaches are described in more detail in this report than the early-stage concepts being considered in the United States. Technologies in related areas being pursued in other countries were beyond the committee’s charge, and are considered only in passing here.
We wish to thank the IAEA, especially Director General ElBaradei, Deputy Director General Yuri Sokolov, and Tariq Rauf for their support of the international workshop held in Vienna to meet with experts from eight countries to learn their personal views on the concepts of fuel assurance. We also thank Alan MacDonald of IAEA for his substantial assistance in arranging the workshop. We thank the workshop attendees and the presenters at the committee meetings from the United States and Russia who provided us with their expert knowledge.
We especially thank Yuri Shiyan of the RAS, Micah Lowenthal, NAS Study Director, and Rita Guenther of the NAS. Without the tireless work of these three individuals, the report would not have been completed.
This joint study addresses some of the serious international issues connecting the spread of nuclear power and nonproliferation concerns. The NAS and RAS have met and worked together for many decades on issues related to science and technology, including decades of dialogues and, more recently, joint studies on international security problems. We strongly believe that inhibiting the spread of nuclear weapons capabilities while promoting better access to safe, clean energy is in the interests of Russia, the United States, and the larger world community. It is precisely at times like these, then, that cooperation is needed between our scientific communities to help focus on those common interests and promote efforts toward common goals. The need for such cooperation grows under the conditions we see today.
Nikolay P. Laverov and John F. Ahearne
Professor Matthew Bunn served on the Committee on Internationalization of the Civilian Nuclear Fuel Cycle, a National Academy of Sciences–Russian Academy of Sciences joint committee which produced this report.
The entire report may be downloaded here (free registration required).
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