The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

South Korea is trying to develop nuclear reprocessing technology other countries have failed at

US expert: uranium price falling, why is S. Korea seeking expensive spent fuel processing facilities? The Hankyoreh, 7 Mar 17

Frank von Hippel says South Korea is trying to develop two kinds of technology other countries have failed at

“The price of uranium is gradually falling, and it costs twice as much to acquire spent fuel processing facilities for running a fast reactor. I don’t understand why [South Korea] is trying to acquire such expensive facilities,” said Frank von Hippel, 80, a professor at Princeton University, during a lecture at a seminar called “Truth and Lies about Pyroprocessing” that was held at the Daejeon Youth We Can Center on Feb. 28. Von Hippel is the American nuclear expert who first proposed the term “proliferation resistance.”

“The Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute is trying to develop the two technologies that all other advanced countries have failed to develop, which is to say reprocessing spent nuclear fuel and liquid sodium-cooled fast reactors. While they claim to be pursuing nuclear fuel reprocessing as a way to manage nuclear waste, this doesn’t improve the problem but only makes it worse while incurring tremendous costs,” von Hippel warned.

“I don’t think the Trump administration and the Republicans are going to change the Obama administration’s nuclear policy [of non-proliferation],” he said. …..

“The Idaho National Laboratory promised to process 25 tons of spent nuclear fuel using pyroprocessing in five years, but they only processed five tons in 16 years, which cost a huge amount of money,” he went on to say.

The plan to reprocess spent nuclear fuel and to build fast reactors derives from false predictions about the future, von Hippel explains. In the 1950s, Americans expected that energy demand would double every decade, but the current energy demand is only twice what it was in the 1960s. The American nuclear energy establishment projected in the 1960s that nuclear energy would cover 100% of future energy demand, but at present nuclear power only provides 20% of energy in the US and just 10% of energy worldwide.

The plan to reprocess spent nuclear fuel for use also derived from concerns about the depletion of uranium reserves and rising prices. But the dreaded rise in prices never materialized because predictions about the rate of increase of nuclear plants were way off and because the output of uranium mines has not decreased. “Currently, the cost of uranium only accounts for 1% of the cost that goes into producing electricity at nuclear plants. Even if spent nuclear fuel is reprocessed and used at fast reactors, it will only be about 2%. Not only is this a small percentage of the total cost, but it will only make the cost of generation more expensive. I don‘t know if it’s necessary to acquire high-cost facilities,” van Hippel said.

Along with the high cost, there are high risks, which means that hardly any countries are interested in building fast reactors, von Hippel contends. France’s fast reactor Superphenix cost 100 trillion won to develop but only operated at 8% before being decommissioned, and Japan’s Monju nuclear plant operated at just 1% for 20 years before it was decided last year to shut it down. The UK is also planning to end operations in 2018. China operated a pilot fast reactor in 2011, but after producing 20kg of plutonium, a small amount, it concluded that the benefits were marginal and suspended the program. Russia continues to operate these reactors, but there have reportedly been 15 fires at sodium fast reactors……

In von Hippel’s view, the most affordable policy for managing spent nuclear fuel is first storing nuclear waste in dry casks and then burying those casks deep underground in disposal sites that have been prudently designed with engineered barriers.


March 8, 2017 - Posted by | reprocessing, South Korea

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