Saturday, June 28, 2008

South Africa plans to reprocess spent nuclear fuel

casksCurrent inventory is almost 1,200 tons, but a lot more is coming

South Africa, which is planning a major new nuclear build to solve its economically draining power shortages, is also looking at what to do with the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. This week a briefing by the Minerals & Energy Department to Parliament laid out plans to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. South African media reports indicate that Schalk de Waal, told MPs,

"In terms of our nuclear policy, we... favor that process - recycling of used fuel - because it's sustainable, and you can recycle some of the raw materials in the used fuel."

De Wall also acknowledged that nonproliferation concerns had limited the nation's options in the past, but not now.

"However, recently, with the world energy crisis, we believe that the US is changing its position, and are seriously looking into reprocessing great amounts of used fuel in that country."

Relying on U.S. initiatives

He's right about that point. Platts reports this week that U.S. Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) introduced legislation to get the U.S. back in the business of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel.

The bill, dubbed Strengthening Management of Advanced Recycling Technologies Act, (S. 3215) also would grant DOE and its private sector partners access to about 5% of the $20-billion Nuclear Waste Fund.

Using money from the waste fund would allow construction of spent nuclear fuel recycling facilities without the need for annual congressional appropriations, according to Domenici.

"There can now be no doubt that a nuclear renaissance is underway. Increasing our use of nuclear energy is the only way for America to meet our increasing energy demands while at the same time reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. A sustainable nuclear fuel cycle is the key to nuclear energy reaching its full potential."

Current and future spent fuel inventory

South Africa currently has two nuclear reactors, but it plans to spend aggressively on current PWR technologies and also has a program to design and build the new Pebble Bed reactor. Instead of having a relatively small inventory of about 1,200 tons of spent nuclear fuel, the country could be generating this same amount every few years as its new nuclear plants, five of them in the next decade, come online.

De Waal told the legislative committee recycling was useful, "because you can reprocess... and take out 95 percent of that used fuel and re-use it, and make new fuel for your reactor."

South Africa will also need a high-level waste repository for the remaining 5% of radioactive residuals. Currently, like most other countries, except France, South Africa's long term storage of spent nuclear fuel is in dry casks.

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