Uranium supplies will not limit the expansion of nuclear power in the U.S. or around the world for the foreseeable future, according to a major new interdisciplinary study produced under the auspices of the MIT Energy Initiative.
The study challenges conventional assumptions about nuclear energy. It suggests that nuclear power using today’s reactor technology with a once-through fuel cycle can play a significant part in displacing the world’s carbon-emitting fossil-fuel plants, and thus help to reduce the potential for global climate change. But determining the best fuel cycle for the next generation of nuclear power plants will require more research, the report concludes.
The report focuses on what is known as the “nuclear fuel cycle” — a concept that encompasses both the kind of fuel used to power a reactor (currently, most of the world’s reactors run on mined uranium that has been enriched, while a few run on plutonium) and what happens to the fuel after it has been used (either stored on site or disposed of underground — a “once-through” cycle — or reprocessed to yield new reactor fuel).