FAQ

What are the arguments for and against the reprocessing of spent or used fuel?

Answer

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.

Background

In other industries, spent fuel reprocessing would be called recycling. The reprocessing of spent fuel consists in separating the different fission products and removing the most highly radioactive. This enables to treat, store and finally dispose of the different elements more appropriately and reduce the volume of ultimate waste. In addition, fuel reprocessing may contribute to the sustainable optimisation of natural resources as the plutonium separated in the process is either used to make MOX fuel reutilised in certain current reactors or can be stored to be used as fuel in future generations of reactors. Recycling is a process to optimize the use of uranium resources and ensure sustainability of fuel supply. When reprocessing (or recycling) minor actinides can be separated: global actinide recycling is also saving uranium resources, minimizing waste heat and radiotoxicity of wastes and ensuring a strong proliferation resistance
Arguments against spent fuel reprocessing maintain that it increases the danger of nuclear proliferation as the separation of the fission products makes it is easier to extract plutonium for weapon use. Opponents claim that shipments of MOX should be banned because of the risk of proliferation and insecurity. However, plutonium removed from MOX fuel could not be used directly to create weapons because it contains too many non fissile isotopes of plutonium (238, 240, 242), and too much americium. The industry takes all necessary security measures to secure its MOX. 
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