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The Economics of Reprocessing vs. Direct Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel

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This report assesses the economics of reprocessing versus direct disposal of spent nuclear fuel. The breakeven uranium price at which reprocessing spent nuclear fuel from existing light-water reactors (LWRs) and recycling the resulting plutonium and uranium in LWRs would become economic is assessed, using central estimates of the costs of different elements of the nuclear fuel cycle (and other fuel cycle input parameters), for a wide range of range of potential reprocessing prices. Sensitivity analysis is performed, showing that the conclusions reached are robust across a wide range of input parameters. The contribution of direct disposal or reprocessing and recycling to electricity cost is also assessed. The choice of particular central estimates and ranges for the input parameters of the fuel cycle model is justified through a review of the relevant literature. The impact of different fuel cycle approaches on the volume needed for geologic repositories is briefly discussed, as are the issues surrounding the possibility of performing separations and transmutation on spent nuclear fuel to reduce the need for additional repositories. A similar analysis is then performed of the breakeven uranium price at which deploying fast-neutron breeder reactors would become competitive compared with a once-through fuel cycle in LWRs, for a range of possible differences in capital cost between LWRs and fast-neutron reactors. Sensitivity analysis is again provided, as are an analysis of the contribution to electricity cost, and a justification of the choices of central estimates and ranges for the input parameters. The equations used in the economic model are derived and explained in an appendix. Another appendix assesses the quantities of uranium likely to be recoverable worldwide in the future at a range of different possible future prices.

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