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Generation-IV Roadmap Report of the Fuel Cycle Crosscut Group

The Charter of the Generation IV Roadmap Fuel Cycle Crosscut Group (FCCG) is to (1) examine the fuel cycle implications for alternative nuclear power scenarios in terms of Generation IV goals and (2) identify key fuel cycle issues associated with Generation IV goals. This included examination of “fuel resource inputs and waste outputs for the range of potential Generation IV fuel cycles, consistent with projected energy demand scenarios.” This report summarizes the results of the studies.

The membership of the FCCG comprised 8 US members and 7 members from Generation IV International Forum (GIF) countries including members from the OECD-NEA, the IAEA and the European Commission observer organizations to the GIF. Members of the FCCG were, in general, drawn from the Technical Working Groups (TWG’s) and the Evaluation Methodology Group (EMG) of the Generation IV Roadmap organization. Five one-day working meetings were held between February 2001, and August 2001 – three of them in conjunction with Generation IV TWG quarterly meetings.

The FCCG reviewed energy projections and selected the authoritative IIASA/WEC projections of 1998 as the basis for performing a selected set of 100 year nuclear energy futures scenarios. We reviewed the uranium ore resource projections of the OECD-NEA, IAEA, and Uranium Institute, the thorium ore resource projections from multiple sources, and investigated independent models for prediction of new ore discoveries vs. cost of supply. A survey of Generation IV concept submittals was made to define the scope of proposed fuel cycles and fuel compositions. Fuel cycle infrastructure status was reviewed, and an extensive review was undertaken of fuel cycle R&D programs underway worldwide. A documentation of the status of institutional aspects providing the enabling legal basis and boundary conditions for worldwide fuel cycle deployment was made.

On the basis of these reviews, studies and evaluations, the FCCG has produced a set of principal findings and has generated a set of top level recommendations for Generation IV fuel cycle crosscutting R&D.

The FCCG’s principal findings are based on two primary sources. First are the results from dynamic scenario simulations of various potential nuclear futures – driven by the 100 year world energy demand projections (and nuclear’s share) provided by the 1998 IIASA/WEC. These nuclear futures scenarios were organized by generic fuel cycle type (once-through, partial recycle, full fissile recycle, and full transuranic recycle) and were constrained only by physically- achievable mass flows and lag times of potential Generation IV power plant and fuel cycle concepts. They modeled idealized transitions from current and near term deployments to Generation IV fuel cycles and power plants and potential symbiosis of mass flow exchanges among Generation IV power plant concept types. These scenarios provide cornerstone indicators for the Roadmap of physically-achievable performance against Generation IV goals.

The second principal input to the FCCG’s findings derived from an extensive and deep review of the technical status of fuel cycle technologies deployed and under development worldwide, and an evaluation of the underlying rationale for the choices of research focus that drive these development programs. While the technical approaches vary, it was found that the worldwide underlying motivations are closely aligned to the goals articulated for Generation IV in the areas of Sustainability, Safety and Reliability, and Economics. The fuel cycle plays a primary role in meeting the three elements of the Generation IV sustainability goals.

The principles of sustainability include meeting society’s needs for energy services while using the earth’s resources in an efficient and environmentally friendly way. Nuclear fission converts uranium and thorium resources to energy with fission products as the essential waste. The net production of long-lived transuranium isotopes is a characteristic of the specific reactor types and fuel recycling steps used. The goals of Generation IV include reduced waste generation and more efficient use of ore resources along with making the nuclear fuel cycle the least attractive route to proliferation of nuclear armaments.

Today the cost of uranium and thorium is not a major contributor to the cost of nuclear energy, and resources do not constrain the expansion of nuclear power. Within several decades the costs of fuel materials may become more significant as lower-grade resources are used. However, repository capacity is an increasingly expensive and politically divisive constraint on growth of nuclear power. The use of fuel cycles and reactors that minimize repository requirements is essential to increased use of nuclear energy.