The safe, secure, reliable and economic management of spent fuel arising from nuclear power reactors is key for the sustainable utilization of nuclear energy and covers many technological aspects related to the storage, transportation, recycling and disposal of the spent fuel and the high level waste (HLW) generated from spent fuel reprocessing.
The sustainability of nuclear energy involves the preservation of natural resources and the minimisation of generated wastes. Currently, in some countries, the remaining uranium and plutonium are industrially recovered from spent fuel and recycled as mixed oxide (MOX) fuel in thermal reactors, saving natural uranium resources and generating vitrified HLW and irradiated spent MOX fuel. Future advanced fuel cycles based on the implementation of Gen-IV reactors will allow nuclear energy to be almost independent of uranium natural resources in addition to dramatically reducing the generated wastes in terms of heat loading, radiotoxicity and proliferation risks.
The last IAEA International Conference on Management of Spent Fuel from Nuclear Power Reactors, held in June 2015, highlighted that there is little integration in the fuel cycle in terms of analysing how decisions made in one part of the fuel cycle may affect another part. Introducing efficiencies into the individual steps in isolation can create additional challenges in subsequent steps. A worst-case scenario would be that a decision taken today forecloses a transition to another step tomorrow. In most cases a technical solution can be found, but this is likely to come at a price (cost, resource utilization, etc.). Therefore, one of the main challenges is to maintain enough flexibility to accommodate the range of potential future options for the management of spent fuel as well as to define and address the relevant issues in storage and transportation, given the current uncertainties regarding the storage duration, the availability of future technologies and future financial, regulatory and political conditions.
In this context, the IAEA is organizing the International Conference on the Management of Spent Fuel from Power Reactors in Vienna from 24 to 28 June 2019, with the theme “Learning from the Past, Enabling the Future”.
The scope of the conference covers the management of spent fuel from nuclear power reactors from the past, present and future nuclear energy systems, and how it can be affected by the decisions taken in the rest of the nuclear fuel cycle.