FAQ

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  • What is unique about the nuclear industry?
    Nuclear industry has a number of specificities: application of precautionary principle, Non Proliferation Treaty and IAEA safeguards regime, many international legally binding instruments for safety, security and safeguards, regulation by a safety authority and protection against terrorism. The final objective is protection of the workers, the public and the environment.
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  • What are the legal and regulatory frameworks for civil nuclear applications?
    Concerning the legal framework, one has to differentiate between international level and national or regional level for civil nuclear applications. Besides the NPT, International Conventions address safety, spent fuel and wastes, notification of incidents or accidents, transport, physical protection of nuclear material and terrorism. They are legally binding instruments. At the national level one can find nuclear law, legislative and regulatory framework, agreements with other countries or international organizations for assistance in emergency situations.
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  • Where can I find more information on nuclear?
    Information on nuclear activities, installations and on all nuclear application in medicine, industry etc is freely available on the Web and includes discussions of pros and cons. It is the implementation of transparency safety principle.
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  • What is energy?
    Energy is a physical quantity that describes the amount of work that can be performed by a force to produce heat or light or movement. Sources of energy used by mankind are fossil fuel, nuclear (fission and fusion), biomass, hydraulic, wind, solar, kinetic (waves), geothermal.
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  • What is nuclear energy?
    Nuclear energy is energy released by reactions involving the nuclei of atoms. It can be from fission of the atoms or fusion.
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  • What is nuclear energy primarily used for?
    Presently on the existing fleet of nuclear power plants, energy production is mainly used for electricity production and district heating in some cases.  
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  • What is radiation?
    Radiation is everywhere. It is energy travelling through space that may take such forms as light, wave or tiny particles much too small to see.  Sunshine is one of the most familiar forms of natural radiation. The health effects of radiation - both natural and artificial - are relatively well understood and can be minimized through careful safety measures and practices.
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  • Does the nuclear industry release radioactivity into the environment that has an impact on human health?
    The amount of radioactivity released by the nuclear industry into the environment is less than 1% of the total amount of radioactivity from natural sources (0.01 to 0.02mSv for a total average annual natural background rate of 2.4mSv). Strict international standards/regulations are applied and controlled.
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  • What are the applications of nuclear technologies?
    Applications of nuclear energy are two folds: those coming from nuclear power and those using radioactivity, isotopes and various nuclear phenomena. Nuclear power is used for electricity production, district heating, desalination and in the future for hydrogen production. The Space industry also uses it. Radioactivity and development of nuclear techniques lead to a large number of other applications. Radioactivity  and development of nuclear techniques lead to a large number of other applications.
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  • How is electricity produced from nuclear energy?
    A nuclear power plant is based on fission of uranium/plutonium fuel. The fuel is placed in a fuel assembly in what is called the reactor core. The fuel has a very high power density and under the fission chain reaction and produces heat which is transformed into steam at high temperature and under high pressure. The steam drives a turbine and an alternator which produces electricity. The steam is then cooled down and the condensed water is then recycled in the reactor vessel. The fission chain reaction is controlled via control rods. The electricity produced is delivered to the distribution grid.
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  • What are the industrial applications of nuclear heat?
    Besides electricity production, nuclear energy is an excellent source of process heat production for various industrial applications. Depending on the output temperatures, these applications include district heating, water desalination, synthetic and unconventional oil production, oil refining, biomass-based ethanol production, and in the future hydrogen production.
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  • How is nuclear energy used to produce hydrogen?
    Besides the existing applications, nuclear power will be used through its very high temperature (around 1000°C) reactor from generation IV future reactors, still in project and the technology of splitting water into its hydrogen and oxygen constituents.
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  • How will nuclear power be used for motor vehicles?
    Electricity produced by nuclear power plants can be used by hybrid and full electric vehicles at potentially off-peak power from the grid for recharging. This is electromobility. In addition if a NPP produces heat for hydrogen production, hydrogen could eventually be used as the fuel for cars or vehicles 
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  • Why nuclear desalination?
    Sea water desalination is already a widely used process responding to the constant and urgent water need of some countries. The use of nuclear power plants for the necessary electricity production has been implemented and the economy shows it is viable and economical.  
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  • Besides the applications of the heat energy produced in power plants, in what other fields are nuclear technologies used?
    (Did you know that nuclear energy is used in archaeology, in testing nappy efficiency or baby powder, in measuring climate change?)  During our whole life, we are exposed to natural radiations and we benefit, often unknowingly, from the many ingenious applications of radioisotopes, radioactivity and radiations: in food and agriculture, in detection and control of water supply, in medical science, in industry, in sciences and in many other applications. Control of the radioactivity sources should be very stringent.
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  • How is radiation useful in medical science?
    In health and medicine, genomic research, medical imaging and functional exploration, radiotherapy, targeted irradiation, sterilization of surgical tools, parasitic illnesses are based on nuclear and irradiation techniques.  
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  • How are radiation technologies applied in food and agriculture?
    In the field of crops and diseases of plants irradiation is extremely useful. Food security concerns every one and strict sanitary and phytosanitary regulations exist for trade with country acceptance Irradiation is currently the best available technology suitable for treating raw and partially raw food. It leaves no residue, does not change the taste, colour, or smell of the food, nor does it make food radioactive.
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  • How is nuclear science used in the management of water resources?
    Sustainable management of water resources is receiving a very high priority. Nuclear techniques are used for isotope hydrology in order to trace the water movements.
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  • Are nuclear energy and applications contributing to environment preservation and climate change monitoring?
    Climate change is disrupting seasonal weather and rain patterns, accelerating glacial ice loss, exacerbating storm frequency and ferocity, contributing to longer droughts and flooding disasters, degrading soil fertility, and speeding the migration of pest insects, invasive plant species and infectious animal diseases. Through nuclear applications, temperature and drought-resistant crops strains can be introduced, fresh water reserves located and mapped, water pollution tracked and soil conservation tools developed. In addition, nuclear applications are powerful tools in understanding the drivers of climate change. For example, natural and artificial radionuclides are used to quantify processes such as ocean circulation, transport of pollutants in coastal ecosystems, sedimentation and submarine discharge of underground waters. MALINA is an example of an international co-operative Arctic program aimed at studying the consequences of global warming and subsequent melting of the ice cover and the permafrost on the ecosystem of the Arctic Sea and namely of the Beaufort Sea. Nuclear energy is contributing to the decrease of CO2emissions since it produces virtually no greenhouse gases. The complete nuclear power chain, from uranium mining to waste disposal, including reactor and facilities construction, emits only 2-6 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour.
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  • How does nuclear energy compare with other energy sources?
    Nuclear power emit very limited green gases and therefore helps and will even help more in the future to limit CO2 emissions, a condition to reduce climate changes. It is economical, safe and reliable. It contributes to security of energy supply.
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  • How serious is the world energy crisis? Can nuclear help to solve this crisis?
    (What is the role of nuclear power in the world’s energy crisis?)  The energy challenges for the 21st century are the following:   - Accessibility: access to affordable modern energy for all people   - Availability: reliable and secure energy supply   - Acceptability: protect and preserve the local and global environment which can also be read as “Poverty, Economy/Security, Environment”. Two major realities, (soon ending of oil and gas resources and threat of climate change), created the energy crisis. Sustainable development induces environmentally friendly increase in living standards, food safety and preservation, environment protection, water resources, cars on electric batteries, reasonable travel and avoiding long distance transport of  goods and food, more public transportation. For all these purposes large increases in nuclear energy production is providing an important part of the solution.
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  • How does nuclear energy contribute to sustainable development?
    Nuclear energy is now a safe, economical and reliable means of producing electricity and other applications. Nuclear power has a unique potential as a large-scale sustainable energy source. The development of civil nuclear power programmes will enable developing countries to improve the quality of life of their citizens and lead them to more economic and political independence.
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  • Can the use of nuclear energy combat global warming?
    Yes nuclear energy is a future large contributor to combat CO2emissions and its role should be doubled if not tripled during this century for countries to meet the targets of reducing green gas emissions. Renewables and nuclear will then be not in competition but fully complementary in the future. Cleaner energy from fossil fuel is also needed with carbon sequestration when fully experimented.
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  • What is the role of nuclear power in ensuring sufficient supply of energy?
    Energy security is the responsibility of both consumers and producers. The energy supply situation differs from one country to another, depending on the sufficiency of local resources, on geopolitical aspects and the power of its suppliers. Security of supply of nuclear energy compared to market fluctuations of oil, gas etc. (regions) and risk of increasing prices due to scarcity of these resources is well established.
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  • Is nuclear energy cost effective?
    Nuclear Power Plant planning, licensing and constructing costs (which means investment costs) are higher than in most of the other energy sources and the return on investment comes later. Once built, operating costs of nuclear plants are very low, which makes them highly competitive and profitable for their lifetime which is presently of 60 years. Fuel costs for nuclear plants account for only 20% of total costs, in comparison to a crucial 60% for natural gas plants.  In the price of electricity from nuclear energy one includes the cost of decommissioning and dismantling and the cost of wastes packaging, transporting and storing in intermediate or final storage facilities.
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  • How are new build nuclear projects financed?
    While existing nuclear power plants are highly economic with predictable operating costs and excellent profitability, the financing of new nuclear plants is more challenging for investors seeking to balance risk and return. Governments have to decide on nuclear power plant construction: it is a political decision and involves a long term commitment of around a century, as part of their national energy mix. One of the most important considerations, and a crucial government responsibility, is the need for efficient and rational electricity pricing. Political risk is a major concern for investors and lenders in developed and developing countries alike.
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  • Can nuclear technologies be safely managed in developing countries?
    All countries having already nuclear programs or embarking on them are parties to the Nuclear Safety Convention. They all request safety review services to evaluate the safety of their installations, they exchange openly operating experience and co-operative agreements. They give transfer of technology and training courses especially on safety and security. They all participate in meetings for continuously improve safety; regulators do the same in order to harmonize their approach.
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  • What are the work force challenges for nuclear technologies?
    A critical issue that may impede the fast development and expansion of nuclear technologies is the renewal/availability of qualified staff for all projects and in regulatory bodies. Lack of necessary human resources and competences has been studied since some 10 years and actions have been taken by governments, universities, designers and constructors first to retain the knowledge and experience of the ageing and retiring work force and second to train young generations of engineers and qualified and competent technicians and workers.
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  • What is nuclear energy’s CO2 footprint?
    The International Energy Agency indicates that the highest releases of CO2 worldwide come from the electricity production. Nuclear production is of great interest in this respect: replacing a coal fired plant by a nuclear one of equal power 1000MW saves 6.5 millions tons of CO2 per year, replacing an oil or gas plant saves 3.5millions of tons of CO2. Nuclear power plants emit virtually no greenhouse gases. The complete nuclear power chain, from uranium mining to waste disposal, including reactor and facilities construction, emits only 2-6grams of CO2per kilowatt-hour. It shows why nuclear renaissance is vital in the future for meeting the objective of decreasing CO2 emissions around 15billions per year in the world. Besides these global CO2 reduction considerations, it is of interest to compare the CO2footprint country by country.
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  • What is the difference between Safety and Security?
    The definition of safety as usually employed is the achievement of proper operating conditions, prevention of accidents or mitigation of accident consequences, resulting in protection of workers, the public and the environment from undue radiation hazards. (IAEA definition) Nuclear security is the means and ways of preventing, detecting, and responding to theft, sabotage and unauthorized access to or illegal transfer of nuclear material and other radioactive substances, as well as their associated facilities. (IAEA definition)
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  • How is nuclear safety assured?
    The overriding safety objective is to protect workers, the public and the environment from the potentially hazardous radioactive materials by ensuring the containment of radioactivity under all circumstances. Identification of risks and preventive or design measures are taken to meet this objective from the site selection, the design rules and the operating procedures even in cases of accidents. Various techniques are used like physical barriers, defence in depth, emergency plans etc. and probabilistic safety assessment. The safety authority has the duties of producing the rules and procedures to respect, to ensure the safety analysis at all stages of the lifetime of the installations and to inspect them.
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  • Are the existing nuclear plants safe and reliable?
    Existing nuclear power plants are safe, their design, construction and operation follow the same safety standards and were licensed through thorough analysis and inspections. Every ten years they are submitted to what is called “periodic safety review”. Upgrading measures are also taken during the whole life of the installation to integrate the operating experience feedback or new knowledge. The nuclear safety convention is a means to review the safety achievements every 3 years.
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  • How do nuclear plants withstand natural and other disasters?
    In the design, natural and other catastrophic events are taken into account and a site study is performed to identify local natural and extreme catastrophic events. After identification of the natural or man induced risks, it is studied as to their potential impact on the plant site or equipments and functions. It is then incorporated as design basis external events and a study of their potential consequences in terms of emergency preparedness is performed. Later on, during the operational phase, monitoring of the various parameters is performed regularly and reviews of the sites also.  
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  • How are nuclear materials safely transported?
    Transport within the current, stringent regulations is safe as can be. Transport of radioactive materials concerns all the installations and activities of the fuel cycle as well as research reactors, hospitals, factories, building sites and homes for fire detectors. The transport of nuclear materials falls under the international regulations for the transport of dangerous goods, the nuclear part of it being the IAEA Standard Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material. The « safety in depth » principle is applied: package performance, compliance to requirements, emergency response. Whenever possible, multiple barriers are engineered between the material and the environment. Radioactive transport requires inspection before departure, in transit and on arrival including contamination checks dose rate measurement at the surface.  
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  • What is “nuclear safety culture”?
    Safety culture has two main components: 1     the environment created by the management and the leaders now called the management of safety, and 2     the individuals: “Safety culture is safety by men”. Safety culture must be evaluated regularly, audited, always improved further with action plans themselves being evaluated as to their effects, and, most important, be part of the management system.
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  • Are operators and governments able to protect surrounding environment and populations in the event of accidents?
    To demonstrate the safety of the plant, the following basic acceptance criteria should be fulfilled to protect the public and the environment: doses and collective doses to workers and the public are required to be within prescribed limits and as low as reasonably achievable, the integrity of barriers to the release of radioactive material should be maintained, functioning of the safety system and main functions (reactivity control and core cooling) should be assured and well defined operator actions. Emergency plans complete the preventive measures. In this way the Government and the regulatory authority are able to control and protect the environment and populations.
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  • Are adequate emergency measures and systems in place in case of malfunctioning or accident?
    (What safety measures and systems exist to respond to unlikely events?)   Emergency plans and preparedness are essential tools for dealing with unlikely accident situations and for mitigating the accident consequences on the population and the environment. These plans are deduced from the accident scenarios studies which determine the releases. The possibilities of dispersion of the releases is envisaged by taking into account the weather conditions at the time or in the future, the population distribution and the evacuation routes if need be. The plans are regularly tested at plant level, or nationally or internationally.
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  • How are nuclear installations protected from attacks?
    Nuclear security is the means and ways of preventing, detecting, and responding to theft, sabotage and unauthorized access to or illegal transfer of nuclear material and other radioactive substances, as well as their associated facilities. Prevention is the first line of defense. It includes upgrading the protection of nuclear facilities, storage and transport. If such protection fails, States need a robust second line of defense. They must be able to detect any illicit activities and to respond to any event. This includes effective border control with user friendly equipment at border crossings, training customs officials and efficient cooperation between law enforcement officials. In addition many legal instruments have been developed for protecting against terrorism: Convention on the physical protection of nuclear material, International convention for the suppression of acts of nuclear terrorism, IAEA Nuclear Security Plan which is non binding but adopted by all IAEA Member States.
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  • What is non proliferation?
    The Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed in 1968 and recognized 5 nuclear weapons states and no more. These states accepted to reduce their nuclear arsenal and to transfer freely the civil nuclear technology. The International Atomic Energy Agency was created in 1956 (and reports to the United Nations Security Council) to oversee the peaceful uses of nuclear materials by controls and inspections through what is called the Safeguards Agreements and to organize the technological transfer of peaceful nuclear developments. For nuclear commerce, respect of NPT is a must and the IAEA safeguard regime is the foundation for NPT implementation.
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  • What is the difference between nuclear weapons and nuclear energy?
    The core of a nuclear fission explosive device is either plutonium metal (preferably with a high proportion of Pu-239) or high-enriched uranium (typically with a percentage of the fissile isotope U-235 around 90% or more) also under metallic form. The plutonium route consists in irradiating uranium fuel in a nuclear reactor, preferably during a short period of time in order to produce rather pure Pu-239. Irradiated fuel unloaded from a reactor can be processed in a radiochemical facility where the plutonium is separated from the used uranium. The other proliferation route consists in producing high-enriched uranium. It is important to efficiently control the export of dual use material and technology in order to prevent or minimize nuclear proliferation risks. Peaceful development of nuclear energy is primarily dedicated to electricity production, heat production and not to produce plutonium resources. Research reactors are aimed at research and isotope production for medical and industrial applications.
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  • Does the development and expansion of nuclear programmes increase the risk of nuclear proliferation?
    Preventing nuclear proliferation is primarily the responsibility of states but, as major stakeholders, the nuclear industry and scientific community should actively support nuclear disarmament as foreseen in the Non ProliferationTreaty and measures necessary to strengthen the non-proliferation regime. Generating electricity in civil nuclear power plants does not increase directly the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation. The proliferation-sensitive technologies are not electricity generation but uranium enrichment and the reprocessing of irradiated reactor fuel.
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  • What are the proliferation concerns about uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing?
    Enrichment facilities if in wrong hands can produce highly enriched uranium, basic core of fissile material for a bomb. Reprocessing also called recycling produces uranium (96%), which is reused in reactors, highly radioactive waste (3%) and plutonium (1%). All nuclear reactors produce plutonium. MOX fuel – a mixed uranium/plutonium oxide fuel- is being used in some countries in order to ruse the plutonium produced. The plutonium if diverted would give the basis for a weapon.
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  • How can illicit trafficking and misuse of nuclear materials be prevented?
    Risks addressed by countries are theft of nuclear materials, including those used in nuclear weapons as well as theft of other radioactive materials, sabotage against nuclear materials and facilities. The IAEA tracks nuclear or other radioactive material outside of proper protection and control: a network of 110 States voluntarily contributes information to the Illicit Trafficking Database.  A globally accepted international framework for nuclear security is essential.
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  • What is the Nuclear Fuel cycle?
    The nuclear fuel cycle starts with mining and milling of the uranium ore, uranium conversion factory, the enrichment plant, the fuel fabrication plant, the reactor, the spent fuel storage on site and then 2 options either the once through leading to storage in huge special casks of spent fuel or the reprocessing one leading to separation of used uranium, plutonium, minor actinides and fission products, waste management and storage. All the steps include transportation with different means and casks depending on the transported products.
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  • How is radioactive waste safely managed?
    With the Joint Convention on the safety of spent fuel and on the safety of radioactive waste management: spent fuel from the operation of civilian nuclear reactors and radioactive waste from civilian applications, the IAEA safety standards and the review of sites, designs and operating sites, all these activities under the control of the regulator over long periods of time, safety and security are very strictly managed.
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  • What are the different nuclear wastes and their management?
    Six classes of wastes are derived and used as the basis for the IAEA classification scheme and the type of disposal varies accordingly. To deal with wastes, management systems are required for related processes and activities such as: (a) Waste generation; (b) Waste characterization; (c) Use of controlled discharges; (d) Clearance; (e) Packaging strategies; (f) Design and manufacture of containers; (g) Handling of waste packages; (h) Safety assessment; (i) Regulatory authorization (e.g. licensing). Classification of radioactive waste may be helpful in planning a disposal facility and at any stage between the generation of raw waste and its disposal.
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  • What are the arguments for and against the reprocessing of spent or used fuel?
    The arguments in favour of recycling are that it recovers reusable materials with very high energy potential, reduces spent fuel quantities, diminishes the quantity and toxicity of high-level nuclear waste and contributes to non-proliferation of plutonium.
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  • How is spent fuel managed?
    Spent reactor fuel lead to vitrified high-level waste (HLW) - Long-lived intermediate level waste (LILW-LL), reactor operational wastes, reprocessing wastes (fuel assembly parts), decommissioning wastes (reactor internals), depleted U from fuel manufacture, fissile materials from weapons dismantling & surplus from fuel reprocessing, plutonium: glass or ceramic (or MOX) and enriched uranium (HEU). They will be stored in deep geological repositories.
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  • What is decommissioning?
    Decommissioning is “The administrative and technical actions taken to allow the removal of some or all of the regulatory controls from a nuclear facility”. The two main objectives of decommissioning are to render the site permanently safe and to recover it, as far as practicable, for reuse. Decommissioning strategies should be elaborated taking in account the funds available.
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  • What are the current reactors?
    Almost all reactors of the first generation are stopped and the existing fleet which is ageing but receiving life extensions after careful and detailed safety evaluation is called Generation II. A new generation of reactors, generation III, is designed and now constructed and takes benefit of the large experience acquired in the operation of Gen II plants and of the lessons coming from TMI and Chernobyl. Light Water Reactors are still dominating. The major features changes are: new improvements in safety (taking into account severe accidents and security measures) while keeping economic competitiveness.
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  • What are the characteristics of future reactors?
    For the generation IV reactors sustainability becomes a predominant concern, which means preservation of natural resources, waste minimization and proliferation resistance are criteria as important as economy and safety.
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  • What is fusion energy?
    A very promising technology but still far from industrial applications.
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