Nuclear Reprocessing in the United States: A Levelized Cost Analysis
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Although most national policies require the long term storage of spent nuclear fuel, no geologic repository currently exists for this purpose. The United States government assumed the task of finding appropriate storage options for spent nuclear fuel more than twenty years ago. Billions of dollars have been invested into creating the federal repository at Yucca Mountain, yet it currently remains unclear if the facility will ever open. Some nations have begun reprocessing spent fuel inventories as a way to manage waste streams and secure energy supply. Considerable effort has been devoted toward the development of advanced reprocessing technologies that can reduce the volume of radioactive materials needing storage, while also generating electricity. Investment in deployment of such technologies will only be possible if the costs and risks associated with reprocessing can compete with alternative options. In order to analyze the economics of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, the Cost of Electricity (COE) of this and other competing technologies was calculated. This evaluation allowed the identification of conditions that make reprocessing technologies competitive under different assumptions regarding uranium price, spent fuel storage cost, and cost of carbon emissions. Based on capital and annual cost estimates from a number of sources, new nuclear plants are economically competitive with new coal plants when carbon emissions assume a cost of $27 per ton. Reprocessing spent fuel only becomes competitive with direct disposal if uranium prices experience significant increases between $184 and $280 per kilogram. If uranium prices remain at current levels, spent fuel storage costs would need to increase from $400 per kilogram to almost $1000 per kilogram for reprocessing one additional time in a thermal reactor to have viability. Storage costs would need to exceed $2,500 per kilogram for reprocessing in a closed fuel cycle to have economic advantage.
DepartmentNicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
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