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Nuclear power and sustainable development.

A central goal of sustainable development is to maintain or increase the overall assets (natural, man-made, human and social) available to future generations while minimizing depletion of finite resources and without exceeding the carrying capacities of ecosystems. The essence of the Brundtland Report's definition of sustainable development is expanding possibilities and keeping options open, not foreclosing them for future generations. The selection of technologies to advance sustainable energy development in any given country is a sovereign choice, and each country will need a mix of technologies suited to its situation and needs. As there exists no absolute yardstick for sustainable energy development and there is no technology without risk, wastes or interaction with the environment, nuclear energy's compatibility with sustainable development objectives cannot be judged in isolation but only in comparison with available alternatives. This paper will provide such comparative assessments and specifically address concerns about nuclear power, such as the longevity of radioactive wastes, operating safety, weapons proliferation as well public and political acceptance. Based on the concept of weak sustainability' and by applying a set of criteria for sustainable development, this paper will argue that the further development of nuclear power broadens the natural resource base for meeting growing global energy needs, increases technological and human capital and, when safely handled, has little impact on human health and ecosystems along the full nuclear source-to-service energy chain. However, societies compare the benefits and risks of technologies from the menu of options available to them. As long as the real benefits exceed the risks of nuclear power; societies tend to accept the technology. The recent renaissance of interest in nuclear power is the result of changes in the risks and benefits of its key alternatives.


Since the late 1970s, nuclear power has been a particularly controversial topic. After almost two decades of great enthusiasm for the benefits of the technology, the public began to grasp the existence of the other side of the nuclear coin: the associated risks, ranging from plant safety concerns after the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island (TMI) in the United States, to the lack of a solution regarding the disposal of high-level nuclear waste, to economics and nuclear weapons proliferation. The ensuing debates were typically centered on individual issues where no common platform or benchmark was reached.

The publication in the late 1980s of "Our Common Future," also known as the Brundtland Commission Report, provided a platform for this debate as well as a flexible definition of sustainable development, which combined limited carrying capacities of ecosystems, finiteness of resources and human development needs. The Brundtland Commission was set to address concerns about "the accelerating deterioration of the human environment and natural resources and the consequences of that deterioration for economic and social development." (1) The report spawned the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. One outcome of UNCED was Agenda 21, a comprehensive action plan for sustainable development. Essentially, its chapters translate the Brundtland Commission's definition into more specific policy directions. Despite the fact that Agenda 21's forty chapters cover all aspects of sustainable development, almost all of which have a direct link to energy, it has no separate chapter dedicated to energy. (2)

The UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was established to oversee the implementation of Agenda 21. Energy was specifically addressed for the first time at the ninth session of the CSD (CSD-9) in 2001. CSD-9's decision on energy was a dedicated effort by the CSD to further translate the Brundtland Commission's definition of sustainable development into specific policy directions with respect to energy. (3) It was also the first time that nuclear energy was discussed at the international level with a direct reference to sustainable development. A heated debate ensued between countries that consider nuclear power an essential component of their sustainable development strategies and those that consider nuclear power fundamentally incompatible with sustainable development. (4) Ultimately, countries agreed to disagree on the role of nuclear power in sustainable development. CSD-9's final text observed that some countries view nuclear power as an important contributor to sustainable development and others do not, and summarized briefly the logic of each perspective. But countries also agreed that the "choice of nuclear energy rests with countries." (5)

CSD-9 also recognized the essential role of energy in implementing Agenda 21. Affordable, accessible and clean energy services are keys to eradicating poverty, improving human welfare and raising living standards. "But however essential it may be for development, energy is only a means to an end. The end is good health, high living standards, a sustainable economy and a clean environment. No form of energy--coal, solar, nuclear, wind or any other--is inherently good or bad, and each is only valuable in as far as it can deliver this end." (6)

The CSD-9 debate clearly highlighted that sustainable development means different things depending on a variety of factors, including: the actual stage of development of a country, its endowment with natural resources, geography, alternative energy options, energy demand prospects and economic capability. It is a continually evolving process that changes as countries reach different stages of development. Sustainability is often presented along the three dimensions of economic prosperity, social equity and environmental protection. Achieving sustainable development, therefore, involves resolving the inherent conflicts between these competing objectives. Technology is the critical link in this process, and the extent to which nuclear power can contribute to achieving sustainable development will be addressed in the following sections.


Societies demand affordable and clean energy services that support transportation of people and goods, information transfer, lighting, space conditioning, as well as the production of investment and consumer goods. These services are oblivious of the multi-link chain involved in supplying them. The chain extends from energy sources provided by nature--such as oil, coal, uranium, wind and geothermal--through technologies and infrastructures required for harvesting and converting sources into fuels and distributing them to the end-use technologies that produce a particular energy service. The multitude of resource-to-service chains composes the energy system.

No absolute yardstick exists for measuring the development of sustainable energy systems. Moreover, there is no technology implementation that prevents risks to the environment. Even if a technology does not emit harmful substances at the point of use, adverse health and environmental impacts due to emissions and waste may be caused during its construction, equipment manufacturing or fuel production. Thus, nuclear energy's compatibility with sustainable development objectives must be assessed in light of available alternatives using a common set of criteria or benchmarks, which could vary from country to country and location to location.


There is a broad consensus that development needs, as defined by Brundtland, are inextricably linked to the availability and accessibility of affordable energy services. (7) Abundant and cheap energy has fueled economic development in today's industrialized countries and remains crucial for the industrialization of developing countries. Cheap energy supports both industrial competitiveness and affordability for consumers. However, distorted energy prices due to ignored external costs result in an inefficient and wasteful use of energy and suboptimal allocation of resources.

More generally, the economic dimension concerns the maintenance, growth and use of different categories of capital: man-made (e.g., infrastructures, machines or technology), natural (e.g., mineral resources, forests, clean air and water or the atmosphere) and social/human (e.g., institutions, knowledge, intact societies or tradition). All three types of capital contribute to economic development and are inherently substitutable, the extent of which has led to the distinction of strong and weak sustainability. (8) "Strong sustainability" assumes a limited level of substitutability between each type of capital--complements rather than substitutes--and requires that each type be maintained separately at some minimum level. A key example is that renewable resources must be harvested within the regenerative capacity of the natural capital stock that produces them and its waste must not exceed the ecosystem's carrying capacity. "Weak sustainability" refers to the maintenance of the total level of capital passed down through generations without regard to its particular form. This allows for the use of exhaustible energy sources as long as depletion is compensated by equivalent increases in man-made and social/human capital. It requires the efficient use of non-renewable resources that reflect full social costs and the timely development of inexhaustible energy systems.

Nuclear Power and the Economic Dimension

Nuclear power is a knowledge-based, high-tech, capital-intensive technology with low operating and fuel costs. Well-run nuclear power plants are among the lowest cost generators with considerable profit margins in most electricity markets. For example, Germany's recent decision to suspend its nuclear phase-out policy was, in large part, driven by the government's need to finance budget deficits. In exchange for running the nuclear power plants up to fourteen years longer, an annual fuel tax of 3.2[euro] billion will be imposed on nuclear utilities as well as a production-based contribution of some 200[euro] to 300[euro] million per year to a fund for the development of renewable energy sources. (9) A total support of 15[euro] billion for renewables is expected over the remaining lifetime of the plants. (10) Nuclear utilities believe that they can still compete despite these added costs.

At the turn of the millennium, fossil fuel prices began to rise and low nuclear operating costs led utilities to apply for reactor license extensions ranging from forty to sixty years, spawning a market in "pre-owned" nuclear plants, thereby demonstrating confidence in achieving continued low-cost operations. (11) License extensions are granted by national nuclear regulators as long as plants fully meet safety requirements. Compliance often requires investment in plant safety upgrades, which can also lead to power uprates of up to 10 percent and more. These investments, however, are a fraction of investments in new building capacities, nuclear or otherwise.

The situation is different for new nuclear buildings. In liberalized markets, high upfront capital costs, long construction periods preceded by extended planning and licensing, and public hearing periods expose investors in nuclear power to sizable economic risks. As Figure 1 illustrates, depending on the location and interest rates, capital costs (including interest) during construction vary from almost $2,000 to more than $8,000 per kilowatt-electric (kWe) installed. The spread of investment costs for all electricity-generating options is large as well; the lower end is usually representative of large developing countries, while the higher end reflects particularly challenging site conditions.


The specific investment costs in Figure I do exhibit overlap, however, between what investors are required to finance and total investment costs. In competitive markets, private sector engagement is limited to a few utilities due to the high costs associated with such investments. This is due to three factors: the bulkiness of current commercial nuclear power plants of up to 1,700 megawatt-electric (MWe); long construction periods of at least four to five years; as well as long pay back periods of twenty years and more. Governments are therefore called upon to share some of the economic risks, via loan guarantees, tax breaks, floor electricity rates, direct subsidies or favorable terms for depreciation. The most important government support for nuclear power is firm energy policy regarding its place in a country's energy supply mix. Sharing economic risks of nuclear power is also a compensation for factors beyond the decision criteria of the private sector and profit maximization, such as energy supply security, long-term price stability and low externalities. In electricity markets with government-owned utilities, nuclear power investments compete with all the other demands on government budgets, ranging from education and healthcare to transportation and infrastructure development. Finance, therefore, is a major obstacle to adding nuclear power to developing countries' electricity generating mix.


Investments are but one cost component in electricity generation. What ultimately matters for investors and decisionmakers are the generating costs. Standard generating costs include investments, fixed and variable operating and maintenance costs (O&M), fuel costs and costs for plant decommissioning and waste disposal. Figure 2 summarizes the relative shares of generating cost components for different generating options. The generating cost structure of nuclear power is dominated by its capital costs compared to other power sources such as coal, natural gas and renewables. (12) In turn, nuclear fuel cycle costs, including waste management, assume a low share of 10 to 20 percent while the actual uranium share accounts for approximately 20 percent of fuel costs--or between 2 to 4 percent of total nuclear generating costs. The small share of uranium in the generating cost structure makes total generating costs very predictable and stable in the long run. Even a ten-fold uranium price increase would only increase nuclear power's total costs by 18 percent to 36 percent. In contrast, for gas-fueled combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) technologies, which have a fuel cost share of about 70 percent, a mere doubling of natural gas prices translates into cost escalation of 80 percent.

A study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) uses harmonized technology performance assumptions and boundaries and clearly specified fuel prices. (13) As illustrated by Figure 3, decommissioning and waste management costs are also factored into the study, which reached two important conclusions. First, at low discount rates of 5 percent per annum, capital-intensive generating technologies such as nuclear energy are among the lowest cost base load generating options. The actual merit order is location dependent and cannot be generalized. For example, in countries with lowest cost coal availability such as Australia, certain parts of the United States, China and Russia, coal outperforms nuclear power even when equipped with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. A similar observation is also valid for hydro power. Second, at a higher discount rate of 10 percent, the competitiveness of nuclear power slips and fossil generation gains on nuclear power. In some locations, coal with and without carbon abatement as well as CCGT are least cost generators, whereas nuclear power maintains its overall cost-competiveness in other locations.

Whether nuclear power is economical cannot be answered universally. As noted above, the availability and appropriateness of supply options depend on national circumstances. They also depend on market structure, the regulatory environment and the investment climate in a given country. Moreover, the economics of nuclear generation relative to fossil-fuel--particularly coal--improves with carbon pricing. No such pricing is included in the generating cost projections in Figure 3. For example, a price of $30 per ton of carbon dioxide (C[O.sub.2]) would increase the cost of coal-fired electricity by $14.4 to $3.20 per MWh (median $24.0 per MWh), depending on the combustion technology and type of coal. (14) As natural gas has much lower carbon content per unit of energy, the corresponding cost additions are $9.6 to $15.9 per MWh (median $10.6/MWh). (15)


Internalizing external costs--costs inflicted on society at large that are not reflected in the price of electricity--generally favors nuclear power and renewables. Typical external costs can include health and damage costs brought about by air, water and land pollution. Examples include regulations for pollution control, nuclear safety, mine safety, oil tanker operation and, more recently, new markets in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions created by the Kyoto Protocol. (16) Once such costs are internalized, they become visible in the market place and influence private investment decisions and consumer choices.

Figure 4 shows the findings of a study by the European Commission on the quantification of externalities. (17) The main externalities of nuclear power are the limited liability of operators in case of severe accidents, radon emissions from mine or mill tailings and uranium consumption. It should be noted that, on balance, the external costs of nuclear power compare well against other energy alternatives. Moreover, policies targeted at combating climate change would automatically favor low GHG-emitting technologies such as nuclear power and renewables.

Another important component of the economic dimension of sustainability is resource availability. Fissile resources of uranium and thorium are plentiful and pose no limitation to the sustainability of nuclear power. Identified conventional uranium resources are 6.3 million tonnes of uranium (MtU) globally, or more than one hundred times current reactor requirements (once-through fuel cycle). In addition, there are about 10.4 MtU of unidentified and speculative uranium resources. (18)

Unconventional uranium occurrences are globally even more abundant. (19) The average concentration of uranium in sea water is 0.003 part per million by volume (ppmv) equivalent to an overall occurrence of 4000 MtU. (20) However, scalability from laboratory level production to commercial scale has yet to be proven. (21)

Thorium (Th), which can also be used as a nuclear fuel resource, is three times as abundant in the earth's crust as uranium. Thorium is widely distributed in nature and is an easily exploitable resource in many countries. Although existing estimates of thorium reserves and additional resources total about six million tonnes, such estimates are still considered conservative. They do not cover all regions of the world and the essential absence of a market has limited thorium exploration. (22)


From the perspective of exhaustible resources, nuclear power can be qualified as sustainably weak. In once-through fuel cycles, spent nuclear fuel still contains some 95 percent of its original energy contents when it leaves the reactor. Reprocessing and recycling of unspent uranium and the plutonium generated during its residence in the reactor can extend the availability of identified resources to several thousands of years depending on reactor configuration and fuel cycle. This does not account for the potential development and commercialization of undiscovered and unconventional resources, which would essentially decouple nuclear energy from resources availability, irrespective of the type of fuel cycle deployed--once-through or closed cycle with reprocessing and recycling. Currently, conventional uranium is too cheap to justify reprocessing unless further aspects, such as waste management or supply security, are taken into consideration.


Environmental sustainability objectives include preserving natural resources and biodiversity as well as protecting ecosystems and habitats. Key challenges associated with environmental sustainability are reducing pollution and mitigating anthropogenic climate change.

Nuclear Power and the Environmental Dimension

Environmental aspects of nuclear power include solid and liquid radioactive wastes, radioactivity released to the atmosphere and water by facilities and operations along the nuclear chain, impacts of uranium mining, GHG emissions, other pollutants that adversely affect air quality, and regional acidification.

Due to stringent governmental regulation, the maximum permitted level of public exposure to ionized radiation resulting from civil nuclear industry operations is only a small fraction of natural background radiation. "Most of the collective dose in the European Union (EU) arises from industrial activities and is attributable to the phosphate industry and oil and gas extraction. The nuclear industry accounts for twelve percent of the EU collective dose from all industrial activities." (23) The nuclear industry's contribution originates from uranium mining and waste management.

Mining: With the exception of the higher levels of radioactivity associated with uranium ore, uranium mining shares many environmental aspects with the mining operations of other minerals. Common characteristics include water use and quality, ambient air quality at mine sites, landscape intrusion, land use and biodiversity, visual impact, tailings and hazardous materials, noise and vibrations and the need to remediate legacy mining sites. The type and degree of environmental impact from mining and processing of uranium depends on the extraction method--open-pit, underground or leaching--and how the mine is managed during operation and after closure.

Uranium is a slightly radioactive metal comparable with granite. During mining and milling, small quantities of radon, a radioactive inert gas, are released to the environment. (24) Radioactivity is not unique to uranium mining and is also a byproduct of oil and gas production--radium and radon--or the mining of mineral sands--thorium. (25) Airborne radon and radium are occupational health risks in most mining operations, although the levels from uranium mining are intrinsically higher.

The bulk of radioactivity from uranium mining is contained in the wastes, also known as tailings from uranium bearing ore processing. Tailings comprise most of the original ore, including radioactivity and heavy metals. The radioactivity of the tailing is about 80 to 85 percent of the ore that initially contained the orebody. (26) The tailings are deposited in dam-like structures. During mine operations, the tailing dam is usually covered by water to confine surface radioactivity and radon emissions. Run-off water from the mine stockpiles and process water from milling operations and tailing ponds need to be prevented from entering biological systems. After closure of a mine, the tailings are sealed with clay, rock, topsoil and vegetation cover. Without coverage, the radon gas released from the tailings piles would be dispersed over large areas, exposing many to additional radiation doses with commensurate increases of individual health risks. Finally, mine remediation is necessary to restore the quality of the groundwater as much as possible.

Much of the observed environmental and health impacts are from legacy operations rather than state-of-the-art facilities. Still, the challenge remains to ensure that ongoing and future operations avoid the creation of new mining legacies. Regulations on environmental impact assessments prior to commencing and compliance with applicable environmental, safety and occupational health standards have been increasingly tightened. Several mines have begun to adopt a zero-discharge policy for any pollutants. A first step is to obtain certification by the International Organization for Standardization's (ISO) 14001 series of international standards on environmental management in order to enhance sustainable management and environmental protection at their operations. In addition, in-situ leaching (ISL) has been the fastest growing uranium mining method. As no orebody is brought to the surface, releases of radon and heavy metal are much smaller than from standard mining operations. Without proper monitoring and recycling, large-scale injection of acid or alkaline solvents into the ground can adversely affect soils and groundwater.

Depleted uranium, the leftover from the uranium enrichment process, is another waste product of the nuclear chain. Enrichment involves increasing the proportion of the fissile [U.sub.235] isotope from its natural level of 0.71 percent in uranium to the level required for use as a reactor fuel, typically in the range of 3.5 to 4 percent. The [U.sub.235] concentration of the resulting tails varies depending on uranium market prices. Yet enrichment is an energy intensive process and higher uranium prices may warrant the additional Separative Work Units (SWU) required for accomplishing lower tails assay as less natural uranium is needed. (27)

The tails of depleted uranium in [U.sub.235] are usually stored as uranium hexafluoride ([UF.sub.6]) in steel cylinders for up to several decades before it is either re-converted into solid uranium oxide or into uranium metal for indefinite storage or disposal. Stored UF6 can be further utilized via re-enrichment, i.e., further drawing down the tails assay and thus lowering the need for freshly mined uranium and storage of depleted uranium.

Waste disposal: The wastes from civilian nuclear operations are usually divided into three categories: Low level wastes (LLW), intermediate level wastes (ILW) and high level waste (HLW). LLW and ILW are generated from civilian nuclear power operations and from medical, research and other applications. These are routinely disposed of in licensed final repositories in many countries. There is no operating repository for HLW from civilian nuclear power plants. HLW means that the waste generates high levels of radioactive decay and corresponding generation of heat over extended periods of time. Depending on the chosen fuel cycle, the definition of what constitutes HLW varies across countries. In once-through fuel cycles, spent nuclear fuel is considered HLW once it leaves the reactor core. In the case of reprocessing of spent fuel, only the non-recycled components are labeled HLW. Reprocessing, i.e., the extraction of unused uranium and the plutonium generated in the reactor, reduces HLW by some 95 percent with commensurate lower physical demand for freshly mined uranium. Table 1 summarizes the composition of spent fuel as well as associated issues.

Effective nuclear waste management is essential for the protection of people and the environment against ionized radiation. The nuclear community generally agrees that HLW can be disposed of safely and isolated from the environment in stable geological formations combined with multiple engineered barriers. For example, continental shield rocks have proven geological stability over hundreds of millions of years, as well as favorable geochemical conditions and limited water movement. (29) Irrespective of the pathway of disposal, the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) of the OECD notes: "Radioactive waste disposal is only likely to lead to minor releases of radioactivity a long time in the future, with the largest releases occurring on time scales that are not meaningful in terms of human history and that, in any case, would produce increases in radioactivity similar to fluctuations in natural radioactivity." (30)

Nuclear waste volumes are inherently small. The current fleet of nuclear power plants, which supply 14 percent of global electricity, generate about 10,500 to 11,000 tonnes of spent fuel (tHM) per year. This annual discharge amount will increase in line with the expansion of global nuclear generation in the coming decades. Per kWh of electricity, nuclear power generates 4.2 to 4.3 milligram of HLW. This HLW needs to be put into perspective by comparison with toxic and hazardous wastes from alternative electricity generating chains and the industry at large. For example, coal, in addition to its radioactive releases from combustion, also discharges some 0.01 to 0.05g/kWh of heavy metals--arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, lead, mercury, nickel and vanadium--along with thirty to sixty g/kWh of ash. The manufacture of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells generates toxic wastes of varying quantities depending on technology, manufacturing process and PV conversion efficiency, but the order of magnitude in g/kWh is comparable to nuclear power. (31) Disposal of most of these wastes are unregulated. Waste disposal is an area in which nuclear power is generally ahead of alternatives.


Greenhouse gas emissions: Apart from energy security and protection against volatile fuel prices, its climate change benefit is the third driving force behind the renewal of interest in nuclear power. On a life cycle basis, nuclear power emits only a few grams of GHG per kWh. The full technology chain for nuclear energy includes uranium mining, milling, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication, power plant construction and operation, reprocessing, conditioning of spent fuel, interim storage of radioactive waste and the construction of the final repositories. The main contributors to GHG emissions are plant construction, specifically emissions from cement and material production and component manufacturing, and enrichment of uranium, depending on enrichment technology and fuel mix used for the electricity input. Life cycle emissions from the nuclear power chain are comparable with the best renewable energy chains and at least one order of magnitude lower than fossil fuel chains, as illustrated in Figure 5. (32)

The December 2009 Copenhagen Accord defined dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system as an increase in global temperature of more than two degrees Celsius ([degrees]C) at equilibrium above pre-industrial temperature levels. In terms of atmospheric GHG concentrations, this translates to 450 ppmv. Various assessments put the required reduction at 50 percent to 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, with global emissions peaking no later than 2020 globally. (33) According to the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), avoiding such dangerous interference requires that global GHG emissions peak within fifteen years and then, by 2050, fall by 50 to 85 percent compared with 2000 levels. (34) Capping global mean temperature increase to a maximum of 2[degrees]C will impose stringent restrictions on the use of fossil fuels. Efficiency improvements throughout the energy system, especially at the level of energy end-use, offer substantial GHG reduction potentials often at "negative" costs. (35) Nuclear power, together with hydropower, wind power and CCS technologies, is one of the lowest supply-side emitters of GHGs in terms of grams of C[O.sub.2]-equivalent (C[O.sub.2]e) per kWh generated on a life cycle basis. In fact, in electricity generation, nuclear power offers the largest mitigation at lowest costs. (36) Especially at locations where nuclear power would replace coal-fired generation fueled with high-cost imported coal or domestic coal transported over long distances or where co-benefits from reduced air pollution are monetized, mitigation costs can be "negative." (37) Any GHG cap-and-trade or emission taxation scheme would further reduce mitigation costs per unit of GHG emission avoided by nuclear power and renewables.

Given the long lead times for planning and licensing as well as for expanding equipment manufacturing capacity and skilled human resources, nuclear power is not a quick-fix solution for combating climate change. However, it certainly is a potent mid-to-long term mitigation option that cannot be ignored.

It should also be noted that the nuclear power chain emits the lowest levels of pollutants affecting local air quality and regional acidification. Emissions per kWh of sulfur dioxide (S[O.sub.2]) and nitrogen oxide (N[O.sub.x]) particulates are minimal and comparable with renewable energy chains. At the point of generation, these emissions are virtually absent, which is another reason why countries are revisiting the nuclear option.


The social dimension of sustainability deals with the "needs" of the Brundtland definition of sustainable development. These needs are not limited to basics of food, water, energy, shelter and health, but should include areas such as education, recreation, leisure, social relations, political activities, social justice--both intra-and intergenerational--, good governance and competent institutions, moral concepts, culture and religion. Sustainability in satisfying intra- and intergenerational needs has to be directed at the relationships between society and nature. (38)

Regarding energy, aspects such as the access of the population to clean and affordable energy services, share of household income spent on fuel and electricity, health impacts and accidents per energy service provided are typical indicators used in the assessment of sustainable energy development. (39) Public acceptance of a particular technology or chain is another aspect that has gained importance as societies develop and attain a higher level of welfare. Moreover, future generations should not be exposed to unacceptable risks that would be caused by present electricity generation practices.

Nuclear Power and the Social Dimension

Health impacts: There is widespread fear about the health effects of ionized radiation resulting from the operation of the nuclear energy chain and, in particular, in the case of large-scale accidents. Yet, radiation is a natural phenomenon and radioactive discharges from nuclear power plants are low. In fact, only a fraction of the average dose received by people from X-rays and other medical procedures, and more than ten thousand times less than their average dose of natural background radiation. All routine nuclear power related activities account for less than 0.002 percent of the total annual dose of 2.8 millisieverts (mSv) averaged over the population of the world. (40) Nuclear safety--providing protection of the public and nuclear workers against radiation--continues to be at the heart of nuclear regulation and a prime focus of nuclear power plant design and operation. Maximum occupational exposure to ionizing radiation in nuclear facilities is tightly regulated and enforced. Actual releases are a function of reactor type, size, age and mode of operation. The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) reports an average occupational exposure for all pressurized water reactors outside the Russian Federation of 1.07 mSV, a reduction from 3.5 mSv some twenty years earlier. (41)

Nuclear power is not the only technology emitting ionized radiation at the point of electricity generation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that someone living within fifty miles of a coal-fired power plant receives an average dose of 0.3 microsieverts ([micro]Sv), while someone living within fifty miles of a nuclear power plant receives 0.09. [micro]Sv. (42)

The dominant safety concern related to nuclear power plants is the possibility of an uncontrolled release of radioactive materials with widespread high-level offsite contamination and significant health impacts from ionized radiation. The infamous and catastrophic 1986 Chernobyl accident cost lives and caused widespread suffering. The devastating accident was caused by fundamental design flaws including the lack of containment coupled with serious operator mistakes and violations of operating procedures. It also demonstrated that operational safety issues are not confined by national borders.

Chernobyl, as well as the earlier 1979 TMI accident--partial core meltdown without offsite radiation contamination due to the presence of a containment-- led to the founding of the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) and the creation of the IAEA's International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group. The aim of both groups is to help spread best practices, tighten safety standards and infuse a safety culture in nuclear power plants around the world. Regular meetings of the IAEA-OECD/NEA Incident Reporting System, where recent incidents are discussed and analyzed in detail, are another part of this global exchange process. Additionally, the Convention on Nuclear Safety brings countries together to report on their progress in meeting safety standards and to critique each other's reports.

These international exchanges of operating experiences, the broad dissemination of lessons learned and peer reviews of operational safety aspects are essential parts of maintaining and strengthening the safe operation of nuclear power plants. There is strong empirical evidence that learning from prior nuclear power plant operating experience has led, and will continue to lead, to improvements in plant safety. Altogether, more than 10,000 reactor-years have been accumulated since Chernobyl without any accident. This safety record, nevertheless, to a large extent provides the basis for countries now considering the construction of new nuclear power plants. However, avoiding complacency and cultivating continuous safety improvement remains an enduring challenge.

Moreover, continuous innovation in reactor design has progressively reduced the likelihood of severe accidents and potential release of radioactivity to the environment. Passive safety systems, such as core catchers, currently being installed in reactors located in Finland and France, ensure that radioactive leakage from the core is contained even in the highly unlikely event of core melt. (43)

The safety of nuclear power compares well with alternatives. Comparative assessments of direct and latent--delayed--fatalities of different electricity generating chains show that deaths from fossil fuel use outweigh the deaths from all other chains, including nuclear power and Chernobyl. (44)

Intergenerational equity: The longevity of HLW and the resource consumption of uranium are two major intergenerational equity issues associated with nuclear power. Current practices of nuclear waste management are safe for the current generation if there is sufficient capacity to handle waste. HLW repositories, however, must be isolated from the biosphere until the decay of radioactivity has reached natural background levels. Repositories, therefore, need to be monitored and safeguarded for many generations. The current generation has a responsibility to put measures in place that do not overburden future generations.

Several planned repository projects in a number of countries have been assessed with regard to potential radiation leakage for a period of up to 10 million years. These studies showed that due to "the efficiency of the technical (waste encapsulation, casks, repository engineering), and natural barriers (host rock)," the released doses are limited to "at most one tenth of a percent of the exposure to background natural radioactivity." (45) It is important to note that other industrial wastes such as hazardous chemical waste and heavy metals also need to be isolated forever since their toxicity will not decrease with time.

Resource consumption: As already discussed, fissile resources are plentiful and do not pose a limitation to sustainability per se. While easily accessible and low cost resources are harvested first, technology innovation continues to render lower concentration occurrences accessible for future generations. Moreover, reprocessing and the use of fast breeder technology effectively decouple nuclear energy from any resource depletion constraints.

Proliferation: The potential misuse of fissile materials for non-peaceful purposes is an anxiety specific to civilian nuclear power and its fuel cycle. It is a legacy from the dawn of the nuclear age, which started with development of nuclear weapons during the Second World War and long before the deployment of nuclear power for electricity generation. Highly enriched uranium and plutonium are the materials of concern for nuclear weapons proliferation.

Nuclear power plants, especially the currently dominating technology of light-water reactors (LWR), are not the foci of concerns. Rather, their fuel cycle components, enrichment and reprocessing are the links to nuclear weapons. Without much modification, enrichment plants can be used for enriching uranium beyond the 3 to 4 percent [U.sub.235] required for fueling nuclear power plants, i.e., to the required weapons grade level of 90 percent. While previous gaseous-diffusion plants are complex, capital-intensive technologies that involve thousands of compression steps and a large foot print, current gas centrifuge technology is less energy intensive (by two orders of magnitude) and can be deployed in a modular fashion in small incremental steps. Reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, separating and accumulating plutonium is the other venue toward weapons grade material.

Since the birth of nuclear power, the existence of dual-use technologies has been a persistent concern in national and international politics. In the early 1950s, the number of nuclear-armed states was rising, which led to projections of dozens of nuclear-armed states in due course. Several world leaders were anxious to ban further weapons proliferation. U.S. President Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" initiative in 1953 united the international community to establish the IAEA in 1957, followed by the establishment of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). In 1970, both the IAEA and the NPT sought to limit the further spread of nuclear weapons. The NPT provides the internationally binding legal backdrop for containing weapons proliferation, while the IAEA has been entrusted with safeguarding civilian nuclear installations and verifying that nuclear technologies and materials are not used to further any military purpose.

Under the NPT, all non-nuclear weapon states commit to not acquire nuclear weapons and to accept IAEA inspections of all their nuclear activities. In return, the NPT grants these states the right to acquire, transfer and develop the full spectrum of nuclear technology, including the fuel cycle, for peaceful purposes. In essence, the multilevel regulatory framework of NPT and IAEA safeguards has kept the proliferation risks under control and has allowed nuclear energy's contribution to peace, health and prosperity.

For the last forty years, the NPT nonproliferation efforts have often succeeded and the number of nuclear weapon states today is significantly smaller compared to fears expressed in the 1950s and 1960s. "Indeed, there are now more states that have started nuclear weapons programmes and verifiably given them up than there are states with nuclear weapons. At the same time, however, the stresses in the system have grown." (46)

Yet, the current position of some countries is worrisome. North Korea, for instance, withdrew from the NPT in 2003 and announced its intention to develop nuclear weapons. With the renaissance of interest in nuclear power, at least ten--possibly up to twenty-five--new countries are expected to operate nuclear power plants by 2030. This will involve massive technology transfer and a significant increase in enrichment and other fuel cycle services. Currently, twelve countries operate enrichment facilities, four countries have reprocessing plants and two further countries have reprocessing plants under construction. The number of countries with dual-use technologies might further grow with the overall nuclear power expansion. This could put more countries in a position to leave the global non-proliferation regime and produce nuclear weapons on short notice. In short, as the UN High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change warned, "we are approaching the point at which the erosion of the non-proliferation regime could become irreversible and result in a cascade of proliferation." (47)

As long as current nuclear weapons states continue to see nuclear weapons as essential to national security, other states will wish to acquire them. Additionally, any state which is developing a nuclear weapons capability may lead other countries to feel compelled to follow suit.

The challenge faced by the international community is to enhance the global nonproliferation regime by closing a gap in the NPT whereby a state can acquire the technology and expertise it needs for a nuclear weapons program and then withdraw from the treaty to develop nuclear weapons. The focus should be on enrichment and reprocessing, as these technologies are prerequisites for the production of the fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

Initiatives to bring all reprocessing and enrichment under multinational control, as well as considering multinational approaches to the management and disposal of spent fuel and radioactive waste, have repeatedly been proposed since the 1970s without success. For example, multilateral fuel cycle centers focusing specifically on reprocessing, and plutonium security or the possibility of international enrichment facilities were examined in the 1970s and 1980s. The main objective has been to restrain the proliferation of nuclear weapons by globally limiting the facilities for enrichment and reprocessing and thus the production of fissile materials that could be diverted for nuclear weapon development. Key stumbling blocks of efforts to bring enrichment and reprocessing under multinational control are "problems of technology transfer and the difficulties of providing sufficient assurances of supply to all stakeholders," especially non-enrichment technology holders. (48) Many countries expressed concerns about fairness in access to nuclear fuel, especially in the case of denial for political reasons, and potential restrictions of their rights to nuclear technology under the NPT.

More recently, in 2004, the IAEA's director general appointed an international group of experts to consider possible multilateral approaches to the civilian nuclear fuel cycle. The expert group concluded that multinational nuclear approaches (MNA) to uranium enrichment, spent fuel reprocessing and waste management would have to assure current non- fuel cycle technology holders access to nuclear fuel, so long as they are in full compliance with their safeguard and NPT obligations. (49) Since then, numerous MNA concepts have been proposed and debated. These range from assurances of supply by multi-government consortia and the IAEA as a guarantor of last resort to a full internationalization of the proliferation sensitive components of the full cycle. The contention of these approaches has been the extent to which they would impinge on individual countries' rights to the development of their own fuel cycles.

A success has been the International Fuel Bank initiative, which, in 2009, passed the threshold of financial donations needed to move forward. The fuel bank is designed to manage a physical stockpile of low enriched uranium and, under control of the IAEA, make fuel available on a non-political and non- discriminatory basis to countries that face politically motivated disruption in supply. The uranium would be accessible by all states at market prices as long as they are in compliance with their nuclear safeguards obligations. The fuel bank contributes to non- proliferation as it provides for reliable nuclear fuel supply, thus reducing the incentive for the establishment of national enrichment facilities without limiting a country's rights to developing its own fuel cycle technologies.

A new situation not foreseen in the NPT is the appearance of non-state actors such as terrorists and criminal groups, and consequently the need to prevent access of such groups to nuclear weapons or radioactive materials for malevolent purposes. Several United Nations Security Council resolutions, such as UN Resolution 1373 passed in 2001 and UN Resolution 1540 passed in 2004, aim at combating nuclear terrorism and addressing this concern. There are also several legally binding and non-legally binding mitigating instruments, such as the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. The IAEA is working with its 151 member states to strengthen these instruments, including measures to further protect nuclear facilities from sabotage and to improve controls over dangerous radiological sources. "A terrorist nuclear bomb or a major radioactive release from terrorist sabotage of a nuclear facility could cancel any chance for large-scale growth in nuclear energy use." (50)

Public acceptance: Factors affecting the public acceptance of any technology fall into two categories: technology-specific--technical features, costs, real and perceived risks and benefits, human health and environmental impacts plus other characteristics of the technology--and the socioeconomic context in which a particular technology is deployed. Shifts in both factors have affected and continue to affect public acceptance of nuclear power. (51)

Among the technology-specific factors, the accidents of TMI and Chernobyl had devastating effects on public acceptance and established the impression that nuclear power is unsafe. The loss of acceptance was further compounded by the lack of demonstrated solutions to nuclear waste disposal and anxiety about nuclear weapons proliferation and physical security of nuclear installations. Since the turn of the millennium, the public attitude toward nuclear power has begun to swing in the opposite direction in most countries, albeit in small increments. More than twenty years of accumulated experience in safely and efficiently operating nuclear power plants have been instrumental in that change. In the broader socioeconomic context, climate change and the potential role in reducing GHG emissions, energy supply security, price stability and progress made in spent fuel management have contributed to the improvement of public confidence in nuclear power. In some countries, however, public concerns about nuclear power remain a major obstacle.

Public acceptance of nuclear power begins with greater transparency of the political decisionmaking process, clear and open public information and early stakeholder involvement. Greater public support can be mobilized through unbiased comparative analyses of all demand and supply options available in the country or region, demonstrating that non-nuclear means of matching supply with demand are not feasible technically, economically or politically.


Is nuclear power consistent with sustainable development? The answer to this question can only be given in comparison with its alternatives. Dismissing one energy option without specifying its replacement on a level playing field is of no avail. There is no technology free of risk to, and interaction with, the environment. Moreover, as much as sustainable development is a dynamic process, technology is also subject to change. Innovation and technology improve most performance aspects of a technology from the current to the next generation or investment cycle.

Today, the advantages of nuclear power with respect to sustainable development include low life-cycle GHG emissions, energy security during periods of price volatility, stable and predictable generation costs, previous internalization of most externalities, small and managed waste volumes, productive use of a resource with no competing uses, firm base load electricity supplies, and synergies with intermittent energy sources. Finally, nuclear power is consistent with "weak sustainability," since man-made assets such as reprocessing, advanced reactor and fuel cycles as well as other associated knowledge make up for resource consumption.

Aspects of nuclear power that need further attention include the permanent disposal of HLW, nuclear weapons proliferation and the nuclear fuel cycle, achievement of the highest level of safety in technology design and facilities operation, lower construction costs and public acceptance. The current benefits of nuclear power may fade away without further advances in technology innovation and international institutional arrangements for a participatory civil society in nuclear-related issues.

Long-term sustainability of nuclear power is primarily a matter of the fuel cycle. From a resource conservation and waste management perspective, the environmentally-rooted 3R hierarchy of reduce, reuse and recycle should become its cornerstone. Closing the fuel cycle, reprocessing of spent fuel and recycling of fissile and fertile materials would drastically reduce the needs for fresh uranium mining and the associated environmental burdens, while at the same time reducing the volumes of HLW per unit of electricity generated. Advanced fuel cycles would ultimately integrate partitioning and transmutation (P&T) of minor actinides into the waste disposal process. (52) P&T reduces the longevity of the waste's radio- toxicity and "the resulting fission products have, in general, much shorter half-lives and, after a few hundred years, are no longer hazardous." (53) As a result, "the removal of minor actinides can reduce the possible radiological impact in the very unlikely scenario of accidental human intrusion into a repository." (54)

P&T does not eliminate the need for repositories, nor does it totally resolve the proliferation issue as plutonium is separated out at various stages of the process and would most likely also involve plutonium-fueled fast breeder technology. The problem of nuclear weapons proliferation can probably only be satisfactorily resolved by ultimately bringing "the entire fuel cycle, including waste disposal, under multinational control, so that no one country has the exclusive capability to produce the material for nuclear weapons." (55)

In the short-run, discussing the long-term sustainability of nuclear power may, for many people, be an exclusively academic exercise, given today's imminent challenges of meeting rising energy demand, providing energy security and combating climate change. Decisions needed now cannot wait for solutions only available in future decades. Nuclear power is not necessarily the ideal technology in all situations or the all-in-all device suitable for every purpose. Moreover, one size does not fit all. All countries differ with respect to the projected growth in their energy use, their national endowment of natural resources, their existing energy system and infrastructures, their financing capability and their preferences and risk perceptions. All countries will use a mix of energy sources and technologies that may or may not include nuclear power. On balance, however, nuclear power compares well with alternatives in the considered dimensions of sustainable development. Nuclear power is readily available and if societies are serious about climate change and energy security, it cannot be ignored.


(1) Sustainable development was defined in 1987 by the Brundtland Commission, known formally as the World Commission on Environment and Development, as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future (London, UK: Oxford University Press, 1987).

(2) United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, "Agenda 21," (New York, UN A/ Conf.151/26, 1992).

(3) United Nations, Report of the Ninth Session (Economic and Social Council Official Records, Supplement no. 9, Commission on Sustainable Development, New York, Rep. E/2001/29, El CN.17/2001/19, 2001).

(4) International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Nuclear Power and Sustainable Development (Vienna, Austria: 1992).

(5) United Nations, 2001.

(6) IAEA et al., Energy Indicators for Sustainable Development: Guidelines and Methodologies (Vienna: 2005), 1.

(7) United Nations, "Energy for a Sustainable Future" (the Secretary-General's Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change (AGECC), Summary Report and Recommendations, New York, 28 April 2010), 7.

(8) David Pearce and Giles Atkinson, The Concept of Sustainable Development: An Evaluation of its Usefulness Ten Years after Brundtland (CSERGE working paper PA 98-02, Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment, University College London and University of East Anglia, 1998), 1-6; Robert Goodland and Herman Daly, "Environmental Sustainability: Universal and Non-Negotiable," Ecological Applications 6, no. 4 (November 1996), 1002-17.

(9) This translates into an overall levy of approximately 25 [euro] to 27 [euro] per MWh of nuclear electricity.

(10) The suspension of the phase-out still needs to be confirmed by the German Bundestag. "German Government Agrees on Eight- to 14-year Reactor Life Extensions," Nucleonics Week (9 September 2010), 1-2.

(11) The economic rationale of applying for license extensions was the result of several factors ranging from higher availability factors and streamlining of operations enforced by deregulation and associated market pressures. E. Michael Blake, "U.S. Capacity Factors: Does New Ownership Matter?" Nuclear News (May 2005), 26.

(12) Adapted from Nuclear Energy Agency and International Energy Agency of the OECD, Projected Costs of Generating Electricity--2010 Update (Paris: 2010).

(13) Ibid.

(14) Ibid., 60-61.

(15) Ibid.

(16) IAEA, Nuclear Power and Sustainable Development (Vienna: 2005), 3.

(17) External costs can be difficult to quantify and convert into monetary values. Any valuation process remains subjective and results vary across countries. Despite progress made in recent years, large uncertainties remain. Data adapted from European Commission, External Costs: Research Results on Socio-Environmental Damages due to Electricity and Transport. (report no. EUR 20198, 2003).

(18) Nuclear Energy Agency, "Uranium 2009: Resources, Production and Demand" (a joint report prepared by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency, OECD, Paris, 2010).

(19) Potentially recoverable uranium associated with phosphates, non-ferrous ores, carbonatite, black schist and lignite range between 10 MtU and twenty-two MtU; Ibid., 31.

(20) Ibid., 32.

(21) Technology to extract uranium from sea water has only been demonstrated at the laboratory scale, and extraction costs were estimated in the mid 1990s at $260 per kilogram of uranium (kgU) and about $210/kgU in 2009; Hisashi Nobukawa et al., "Development of a Floating Type System for Uranium Extraction from Seawater Using Sea Current and Wave Power" (Proceedings of the 4th International Offshore and Polar Engineering Conference, Osaka, Japan, 10-15 April 1994), 294-300; Masao Tornado, "Current Status of Technology for Collection of Uranium from Seawater" (Erice, Italy, Erice Seminar 2009),, accessed 15 April 2010.

(22) Nuclear Energy Agency (2010), 32.

(23) Sustainable Development Commission, "The Role of Nuclear Power in a Low Carbon Economy" (SDC position paper, London: March 2006), 16,

(24) Radon is one of the decay products of uranium and radium, and occurs naturally in most rocks.

(25) This radioactivity is labeled "naturally occurring radioactive materials" (NORMs).

(26) Australian Uranium Association, 2009.

(27) A decline in tails assay of 0.05 percent from 0.30 to 0.25 percent corresponds to an approximate 9.5 percent reduction. Nuclear Energy Agency (2010), 75.

(28) Adapted from IAEA, Development of Advanced Reprocessing Technologies (Vienna: Nuclear Technology Review, 2008), 69.

(29) Engineered barriers for spent fuel HLW include the fuel matrix and fuel rod cladding put in copper canisters, iron inserts and backfill of the repository caverns. Because reprocessing involves the dissolution of spent fuel in nitric acid, HLW from reprocessing needs to be solidified and immobilized by vitrification in molten glass before it can be safely disposed of in a geological repository.

(30) Nuclear Energy Agency, "Nuclear Energy Outlook 2008" (Paris: 2008), 140.

(31) IAEA, Nuclear Power and Sustainable Development (Vienna: 1997).

(32) Considerably higher GHG emission estimates for nuclear power are reported by Benjamin Sovacool, "Valuing the Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Nuclear Power: A Critical Survey," Energy Policy 36 (2008), 2950-63. The higher values are based on non-peer reviewed work of Van Leeuwen, Nuclear Power-The Energy Balance),, which selects worst case components of the nuclear chain such as dated energy-intensive diffusion enrichment technology which is increasingly replaced by centrifuge technology combined with lowest concentration uranium ore deposits down to 0.01 percent using standard mining approaches (rather than leaching). "It is very unlikely, however, that it would be economical to mine such low-grade ore for its uranium during the remainder of this century." Erich Schneider and William Sailor, "Long-term uranium supply estimates," Nuclear Technology 162, no. 3 (June 2008), 379.

(33) Martin Parry et al., "Squaring up to reality," Nature Reports Climate Change (Nature Publishing Group, May 2008), 1,, and Bert Metz et al., eds., Climate Change 2007: Mitigation--Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, 2007).

(34) Brian S. Fisher et al., "Issues Related to Mitigation in the Long Term Context," in Climate Change 2007". Mitigation. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, Bert Metz, et al., eds., (Cambridge University Press, 2007), 173.

(35) Negative cost indicates that the measure or investment is economically viable in its own right.

(36) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007.

(37) IAEA, Nuclear Power and Climate Change 2009 (Vienna: 2010), 12; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Technical Summary, (2007), 45.

(38) Beate Littig and Erich GrieBler, "Social Sustainability: A Catchword between Political Pragmatism and Social Theory," International Journal of Sustainable Development 8, nos. 1-2 (2005), 65-79.

(39) IAEA, (2005a).

(40) IAEA, Radiation, People and the Environment (Vienna: IAEA/PI/A.75, February 2004), 13.

(41) United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (2008), Table A-21.

(42) Environmental Protection Agency, The EPA Calculate Your Radiation Dose, radiation/understand/calculate.html, accessed 15 September 2010.

(43) European Nuclear Energy Forum, Strengths--Weaknesses--Opportunities-- Threats (SWOT) Analysis (Brussels: European Nuclear Energy Forum (ENEF) Working Group Opportunities--SubGroup on Competitiveness of Nuclear Power, May 2010), 78.

(44) Nuclear Energy Agency, Comparing Nuclear Accident Risks with Those from Other Energy Sources (Paris: NEA No 6861, Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organisation of Economic Co- operation and Development, 2010), 8.

(45) European Nuclear Energy Forum (2010), 78.

(46) IAEA, "Reinforcing the Global Nuclear Order for Peace and Prosperity: The Role of the IAEA to 2020 and Beyond" (report prepared by an independent commission at the request of the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency) (2008), 4.

(47) "A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility," (report of the Secretary- General's High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change, 2004), 39.

(48) Nuclear Energy Agency (2008), 281.

(49) IAEA, "Multilateral Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Expert Group Report submitted to the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency," (INFCIRC/640, 22 February 2005).

(50) IAEA. "Reinforcing the Global Nuclear Order for Peace and Prosperity: The Role of the IAEA to 2020 and Beyond" (report prepared by an independent commission at the request of the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency: Vienna, 2008).

(51) International Atomic Energy Agency, "Climate Change and Nuclear Power 2009," (Vienna: 2009), 40.

(52) Partitioning means the separation of minor actinides, e.g., plutonium, americium, curium or neptunium from the spent fuel or HLW. Transmutation implies to "burn" i.e. fission these actinides. In essence, the actinides are subjected to a strong neutron flux that accelerates they decay in less radioactive isotopes. Effective transmutation, however, requires the presence of fast neutron reactors or accelerator-driven systems (ADS).

(53) European Commission, "RED-IMPACT: Impact of Partitioning, Transmutation and Waste Reduction Technologies on the Final Nuclear Waste Disposal" (European Commission, FP6 CONTRACT No: FI6W-CT-2004-002408, Brussels: September 2007), 20.

(54) Ibid., 5.

(55) Mohamed ElBaradei, "Reviving Nuclear Disarmament," (speech, conference on "Achieving the Vision of a World Free of Nuclear Weapons," Oslo: 26 February 2008).

H.-Holger Rogner is the section head of the Planning and Economic Studies Section (PESS) at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Table 1: Composition of Spent Fuel From Thermal Reactors:
Associated Issues and Plausible Solutions (28)

Constituent in percent Issue

Uranium ~ 95-96 An energy resource.

Plutonium (Pu) ~ 1.0 An energy resource,
 but also the major
 contributor to long-
 term radio-toxicity
 (and heat-load) of
 the waste. Separated
 Pu constitutes a
 major proliferation

Minor actinides ~ 0.1 Important
(MAs) primarily contributors to
Neptunium (Np), long-term radio-
Americium (Am) and toxicity of the
Curium (Cm) waste. Proliferation
 concerns exist
 separated Np.

Stable or short- ~ 3-4 Some Fps such as
lived fission cesium (Cs) and
products (FP) strontium (Sr) are
 the primary
 contributors to the
 short term
 radio-toxicity and
 heat source in the
 waste. Other Fps,
 e.g., noble metals,
 could become

Long-lived fission ~ 0.1 Contributors to the
products (LLFPs) long term radio-
viz., Technetium toxicity of the
(Tc) and Iodine (I) waste.

Constituent Disposition path

Uranium Separated uranium
 recycled as fuel in

Plutonium (Pu) Separated Pu
 recycled in reactors
 as fuel.
 concerns could be
 reduced by not
 separating pure Pu.

Minor actinides MAs can be
(MAs) primarily burnt alone or in
Neptunium (Np), combination with Pu
Americium (Am) and in fast reactors.
Curium (Cm)

Stable or short- Storage of HLW for a
lived fission few hundred years or
products (FP) separation of Cs and
 Sr for separate
 disposal after a few
 hundred years
 storage. Separated
 Cs has industrial

Long-lived fission No industrial
products (LLFPs) process to limit the
viz., Technetium problem has been
(Tc) and Iodine (I) developed.

Source: Adapted from International Atomic Energy Agency,
Development of Advanced Reprocessing Technologies (Vienna:
Nuclear Technology Review 2008), 69.
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Date:Sep 22, 2010
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