Reprocessing of nuclear fuel and plutonium breeder commercialization: implications of deferral

by Wayne D. Perry

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Analyzes implications of deferred light water reactor (LWR) spent fuel reprocessing upon the availability and cost of plutonium needed for liquid metal fast breeder reactor (LMFBR) commercialization. The analysis is predicated upon the assumption that U.S. commercial reprocessing of nuclear fuel would not otherwise proceed, because of U.S. weapons antiproliferation policies or because of findings that the near-term economic benefits of reprocessing for recycle of uranium and fissile plutonium in LWRs are either small or nonexistent. As background, this paper reviews U.S. government policies on deferral of commercial-scale reprocessing and plutonium breeding reactors, and summarizes prior U.S. economic cost/benefit analyses, all of which indicate small benefits, if any, of investment in reprocessing for recycle in a LWR economy. The paper models the time and capacity of commercial-scale LWR reprocessing facilities and the associated minimum present discounted costs that would support a decision to proceed with U.S. LMFBR commercialization at a later time.

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