Contrôle review No.162 - Fuel cycle safety
A much debated issue in nuclear fuel is whether to opt for the once-through cycle (that means reprocessing) or the open cycle (fuel directly into storage). The question is both technical and economic and opinions are often very clear-cut. The following pages address this issue – in plain terms.
The French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) notes that in the mid-1980's, France decided that the nuclear material obtained by reprocessing irradiated fuel – plutonium and uranium – should be recycled in pressurised water reactors. It also observes that other countries have opted for a different solution involving the direct disposal of spent fuel.
Controlling the safety of the fuel cycle is an important part of ASN's activities and considerable human resources are therefore devoted to it.
Contrôle already focused on this topic in 1997. As fuel characteristics are about to change and some facilities have reached maturity, while other, older installations must be upgraded or replaced, I thought that it was time for Contrôle to take another look at industrial strategies and the safety issues raised by these changes.
Developments in nuclear fuels and their conditions of use are never neutral in terms of safety and radiological protection. At each stage of the cycle, they imply new safety analyses and new assessments of their impact on workers, the general public and the environment. For the purpose of these assessments, ASN shares operating feedback with the regulatory bodies of other European countries possessing the same type of facility, and generally works towards harmonising practices in this area.
As part of its efforts to promote consistency in the fuel cycle and control the developments planned by industry, ASN has asked Electricité de France, the French national electric utility, to coordinate the response of the companies involved and demonstrate, with a view to a forward-looking assessment, the compatibility between changes in fuel characteristics, irradiated fuel management, and the necessary changes to fuel cycle facilities.
On the whole, ASN takes a positive view of fuel cycle safety in France, but continues, of course, to keep a watchful eye over the safety of these facilities. At every stage of their life, it makes sure that satisfactory safety conditions are met. In addition, it ensures that schedules and deadlines are clearly defined, in order to check that the choices made are consistent and that the necessary changes are made to the facilities.
Director of the French nuclear safety authority