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Study Assesses Nuclear Power Assumptions

What We Talk About When We Talk About the Future of Nuclear Power

A broad review of current research on nuclear power economics has been published in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy. The report concludes that nuclear power will continue to be a viable power source but that the current fuel cycle is not sustainable. Due to uncertainty about waste management, any projection of future costs must be built on basic assumptions that are not grounded in real data.

"The goal of this study was to determine what assumptions are key to reaching conclusions about the relative costs of technologies," says author Sarah Widder, now at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. She performed the analysis as a science policy intern in Washington D.C. sponsored by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers . "The increasing world demand for uranium and political considerations such as the fate of the Yucca mountain disposal site are two major elements that drive conclusions in one direction or another."

Reprocessing and recycling of spent fuel is an alternative to the "once-through" policy mandated by the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act. While it would minimize high-level radioactive waste and recover additional value from the fuel, the option is controversial because of the risk of weapon proliferation and the significant cost of fuel recovery. Analyses supporting the once-through option assume a continuation in current waste management policies, although they rely on disposal at Yucca Mountain, which has now been deemed unsuitable by the current administration. Analyses supporting a closed fuel cycle, in which unused fuel is recovered and recycled, assume progress in developing new recovery technologies and an increase in uranium costs due to international competition for resources.

The article, "Benefits and Concerns of a Closed Nuclear Fuel Cycle" by Sarah Widder appears in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy. See:

Journalists may request a free PDF of this article by contacting

Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy (JRSE) is an interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal published by the American Institute of Physics (AIP) that covers all areas of renewable and sustainable energy-related fields that apply to the physical science and engineering communities. As an electronic-only, Web-based journal with rapid publication time, JRSE is responsive to the many new developments expected in this field. The interdisciplinary approach of the publication ensures that the editors draw from researchers worldwide in a diverse range of fields. See:
The American Institute of Physics is a federation of 10 physical science societies representing more than 135,000 scientists, engineers, and educators and is one of the world's largest publishers of scientific information in the physical sciences. Offering partnership solutions for scientific societies and for similar organizations in science and engineering, AIP is a leader in the field of electronic publishing of scholarly journals. AIP publishes 12 journals (some of which are the most highly cited in their respective fields), two magazines, including its flagship publication Physics Today; and the AIP Conference Proceedings series. Its online publishing platform Scitation hosts nearly two million articles from more than 185 scholarly journals and other publications of 28 learned society publishers.

Jason Socrates Bardi | Newswise Science News
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