Publication Laka-library:
Too Hot to Handle. The truth about high burnup spent fuel

AuthorHugh Richards
DateApril 2008
Remarks To boost the efficiency of nuclear reactors, operators have progressively enriched the uranium they use as fuel to increase its "burn-up" rate. This is a measure of the amount of electricity extracted from a given amount of fuel, and is expressed in gigawatt-days per ton of uranium (GWd/tU). The higher the burn-up, the longer the fuel rods can remain in the reactor. Since 1970, the average burn-up of these reactors worldwide has almost doubled, to more than 40 GWd/tU . The next generation of nuclear plants will bring a further step-change. Plans for the two designs most likely to be built in the U.S. and U.K. - Westinghouse's AP1000 and Areva's European Pressurised Reactor - envisage burn-up rates of 60 GWd/tU or more. At these rates, uranium fuel rods should burn for around a year longer than today's best burn-up fuel.

From the publication:

Hugh Richards BArch MA MRTPI
April 10th 2008

Too Hot to Handle
The truth about high burnup spent fuel

The problem with deciding ‘in principle’ to support new nuclear power stations is that
once the actual details emerge, however troublesome, the Government will remain
committed, and will be inclined to ignore them. In advance of detailed examination
of the proposals of the nuclear industry the Government has reasserted its belief
that new nuclear power stations would pose very small risks to safety. In fact the
entire public consultation exercise seems to have been designed to protect the
nuclear industry from proper scrutiny, and this ‘keep it vague’ method is continuing.
A good example is the way in which we as taxpayers are being ‘locked in’ to taking
responsibility for the long-term management of highly radioactive waste from new
nuclear power stations without any clear idea of the implications. The high burn up
fuel proposed for new reactors uses more enriched uranium, and leaves it in the
reactor for longer. This gets more output from the fuel, but increases the dangers of
radioactive releases as the fuel cladding gets thinner. This increased danger
persists throughout its storage and disposal.
The Government says that before it grants consent for new nuclear reactors it
“will need to be satisfied that effective arrangements exist or will exist to
manage and dispose of the waste they will produce”. 1
This approach has been denounced by the International Atomic Energy Agency as
‘too vague to provide the required certainty’. In March 2007 the IAEA warned that
Britain must not go ahead with a new generation of nuclear power stations until it
has a "clear and robust" plan in place for dealing with the twin problems of
decommissioning and waste treatment. The agency's executive director said:
"The spent-fuel issue is the most critical one for nuclear. It will not develop if
there is not a credible and satisfactory answer to the management of spent
fuel and one which is convincing for the public." 2