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You are here: Home / Data and maps / Indicators / Nuclear energy and waste production / Nuclear energy and waste production (ENER 013) - Assessment published Sep 2010

Nuclear energy and waste production (ENER 013) - Assessment published Sep 2010

This content has been archived on 12 Nov 2013, reason: Content not regularly updated
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Generic metadata

Topics:

Energy Energy (Primary topic)

Tags:
fuels | electricity | energy | heavy metals | nuclear energy | nuclear plants
DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • ENER 013
Dynamic
Temporal coverage:
1990-2007, 2009
 
Contents
 

Key policy question: What are the trends concerning the accumulation of high level nuclear waste and the production of spent fuel?

Key messages

The amount of high level nuclear waste from nuclear electricity production continues to accumulate. In 2007, 34,216 tonnes of heavy metals contained in high level nuclear waste was in storage, up 13.2% since 2005. The annual quantity of spent fuel was approximately 3,461 tonnes of heavy metals in 2007, relatively stable since 1990. On the other hand, the electricity produced from nuclear power increased by 17.7% over the same period. This partial decoupling between electricity production and generation of radioactive waste can be explained by the fact that fuel rods are replaced gradually as well as by recent improvements in fuel burnup, plant efficiency and increased plant availability.

Stored total amount of high level waste (in tonnes heavy metals)

Note: Stored total amount of high level waste (in tonnes heavy metals)

Data source:

IAEA (2003) K. Fukuda, W. Danker, J.S. Lee, A. Bonne, M.J. Crijns; IAEA Overview of global spent fuel storage; Vienna : IAEA, Department of Nuclear Energy, 2003

NEA (2007) Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA); Nuclear Energy Data : 2007 Edition = Données sur l' énergie nucléaire; Paris, France : OECD, 2007

NEA (2008) Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA); Nuclear Energy Data : 2008 Edition = Données sur l' énergie nucléaire; Paris, France : OECD, 2008

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Historic series in spent fuel arising (tonnes heavy metals)

Note: Historic series in spent fuel arising (tonnes heavy metals)

Data source:

OECD (2007) OECD environmental data compendium, part 1, chapter 8; April 2007 http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/60/46/38106824.xls

IAEA (2003) K. Fukuda, W. Danker, J.S. Lee, A. Bonne, M.J. Crijns; IAEA Overview of global spent fuel storage; Vienna : IAEA, Department of Nuclear Energy, 2003

NEA (2007) Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA); Nuclear Energy Data : 2007 Edition = Données sur l' énergie nucléaire; Paris, France : OECD, 2007

NEA (2008) Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA); Nuclear Energy Data : 2008 Edition = Données sur l' énergie nucléaire; Paris, France : OECD, 2008

 

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EU Electricity production from nuclear (percentages relative to 1990 level)

Note: EU Electricity production from nuclear (percentages relative to 1990 level)

Data source:

Eurostat, Supply, transformation, consumption - electricity - annual data. http://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/show.do?dataset=nrg_105a&lang=en

OECD (2007) OECD environmental data compendium, part 1, chapter 8; April 2007 http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/60/46/38106824.xls

IAEA (2003) K. Fukuda, W. Danker, J.S. Lee, A. Bonne, M.J. Crijns; IAEA Overview of global spent fuel storage; Vienna : IAEA, Department of Nuclear Energy, 2003

NEA (2007) Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA); Nuclear Energy Data : 2007 Edition = Données sur l' énergie nucléaire; Paris, France : OECD, 2007

NEA (2008) Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA); Nuclear Energy Data : 2008 Edition = Données sur l' énergie nucléaire; Paris, France : OECD, 2008

 

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Availability improvements in nuclear power plants in Europe

Note: Availability improvements in nuclear power plants in Europe

Data source:

IAEA (2009) Power Reactor Information System (PRIS); August 2009 http://www.iaea.or.at/programmes/a2/

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Numbers of Nuclear Fuel Cycle Facilities operational in 2009

Note: Numbers of Nuclear Fuel Cycle Facilities operational in 2009

Data source:

NFCIS (2009) Nuclear Fuel Cycle Information System (NFCIS). August 2009 http://www-nfcis.iaea.org/

 

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Key assessment

    • The amount of high level nuclear waste continues to accumulate. In 2007, 34,216 tonnes of heavy metals contained in nuclear waste was in storage, up 13.2 % since 2005 (see Figure 1).  
    • In 2007, 3461 tonnes of heavy metals contained in spent nuclear fuel resulted from electricity production from nuclear power plants, amount which remained relatively stable over the years since 1990. Historical series of arising spent fuel are given in Figure 2[1]. Arising amounts of spent fuel depend primarily on the amount of power produced, but also to a large extent on the type of reactor, level of fuel enrichment, fuel burnup and power plant net electric efficiency. For example, as indicated by the given burnup rate (see Table 1 below), a Candu reactor will produce more spent fuel per kWhe than light water reactors (LWR). Since 1990, the amount of arising spent fuel remained stable while, at the same time, the amount of electricity generated increased by 17.7% (see ENER 27 and Figure 3 below). Since very few new nuclear power plants have come online since 1990 and several plants in UK, Lithuania, Germany, Sweden, Slovakia and Bulgaria have been shut down (WNA, 2009), these trends illustrate increased plant availability in the past decades (see Figure 4 below) and increases in net plant electric efficiency from app. 32% to  app. 35% (WNA, 2003). They also illustrate the trend in increasing fuel enrichment and fuel burnup and the resulting reduction in spent fuel arising per unit of power. Plant closure results in a peak in spent fuel arising because all the fuel present in the reactor core is removed. By contrast, during power production only some 1/4 to 1/3 is removed annually as spent fuel. The effects of plant closure on spent fuel production are most pronounced for the UK with decommissioning at Berkley (1989), Trawsfynydd (1993), Hinkley Point (2000) and Bradwell (2002) which explain the peaks in the graph (see Figure 2 below).


    [1] The information refers to the quantity of heavy metals in nuclear fuel, which make up approximately 85% of the uranium fuel and 60% - 70% of the aggregation of fuel and fuel casing (fuel assembly).

Specific policy question: What are the main developments concerning the spent fuel reprocessing and storage of high level nuclear waste in Europe?

Indicative specifications for different reactor types

Note: Indicative specifications for different reactor types

Data source:

IEE (2005) Nuclear reactor Types : an Environment & Energy FactFile; The Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE); London, UK : The Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE), 2005

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Specific assessment

  • Spent nuclear fuel reprocessing

The amount of spent fuel arising in Europe is not equivalent to the amount of high level waste that is ultimately stored, since part of this spent fuel is reprocessed. Former Eastern bloc member states appear to have exported part of their produced spent fuel to Russia, with Bulgaria appearing to have exported spent fuel as late as 2006 (Bellona, 2008).

Reprocessing is an important part of the fuel cycle within the European nuclear fuel industry, as illustrated by the share of European reprocessing facilities to the global total number of facilities (see Figure 5). Europe imports most of the uranium consumed by its nuclear power plants as ore, having very little mining production in the region itself. This means that the environmental and human health impact associated with uranium mining play a much lesser role in the European context. Imported ore is processed into fuel in Europe and part of the produced fuel is exported to the USA. While in other parts of the world the fuel is stored after consumption, in Europe a significant portion of the spent fuel is reprocessed, hence reducing the amount of high level waste that will require final disposal. For more technical details on spent fuel reprocessing see (EdF, 2007), (Harvard, 2003) and (MIT, 2003) and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Spent fuel from France, Japan, Netherlands, and Belgium is reprocessed in La Hague.. As of 1st January 2007, 22,650 metric tonnes of spent fuel have been treated at La Hague (Areva, 2007). Most reprocessed uranium (RepU) is not reused but stored on site or exported to Russia. An estimated total of 20 ktonnes of RepU is stored in France, produced by the different La Hague and the older Marcoule plants. Another 10 ktonnes has also purportedly been exported to Russia for permanent storage[1] (Burnie, 2007)

 

  • High level nuclear waste storage

Spent nuclear fuel is the most highly radioactive waste. It decays rapidly at first, i.e. after 40 years the level of radioactivity has typically dropped to 1/1000th of the initial value. But it takes around 1000 years to drop to the level of the original uranium ore which was needed to produce that quantity of spent fuel (WNA, 2003). The potential impact of high level nuclear waste on humans and the environment depends on the level of radioactivity and on the conditions under which the waste is managed. The majority of member states currently store spent fuel and other high level radioactive wastes in above ground storage facilities. However, deep geological disposal in an underground repository is currently favoured as a long-term option by many countries. Lower level radioactive wastes are commonly stored in surface disposal sites.



[1] The information source uses the word “dumping” so it is assumed that this export to Russia is meant for permanent storage. 

Specific policy question: What are the most recent developments concerning the nuclear reactor design and what are the likely consequences on the environment and human health?

Specific assessment

  • Technological development in the last decade has resulted in improved versions of existing LWR reactor designs, such as the EPR, AP-1000, ESBWR and ABWR: the so-called generation III or III+ designs. These have a somewhat higher net electric efficiency compared to current updated generation II reactors (35% - 39% compared to 33% - 35%, (TUD, 2006)) and allow for higher fuel burnup, higher fuel assay (quantity of fuel in total material) and a higher percentage of MOX in the fuel. These specifications mean less fuel is required per kWhe and a larger percentage of spent fuel can be reprocessed. They are also intrinsically safer than updated generation II reactors.
  • Development of new reactor designs is coordinated in the so-called Generation IV International Forum (GIF). This is a US-led grouping set up in 2001 and joined by the EU in 2005 which has identified six reactor concepts for further investigation with a view to commercial deployment by 2030. These reactor designs contain different levels of automatic safety controls which are likely to minimize the risk of human failure in operating the plant (the main cause of the Cernobyl accident). Higher operational temperature will also result in higher energy efficiency. Parallel to the Generation IV forum the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) is being developed in South Africa and China. Net efficiency will be 42%, burnup will be at least 90 GWday/tU but may be increased eventually to 200 GWday/tU. At a burnup of 90 GWday/tU the amount of spent fuel per unit of delivered electricity will be 60% less than for current Generation II reactors.

Specific policy question: What is the cost structure of the nuclear power projects?

Cost structure of nuclear power projects

Note: Cost structure of nuclear power projects

Data source:

ECN (2007) M.J.J. Scheepers, A.J. Seebregts, P. Lako F.J. Blom, F. van Gemert; Fact finding kernenergie : t.b.v. de Ser-Commissie Toekomstige Energie voorziening; Petten, The Netherlands : ECN, 2007

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Cost estimates on final disposal (million euros)

Note: Cost estimates on final disposal (million euros)

Data source:

Kukkola (2005) T. Kukkola, T. Saanio; Cost Estimate of Olkiluoto Disposal Facility for Spent Nuclear Fuel; March 2005

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Specific assessment

Costs of nuclear power production are a subject of intense discussion and estimates range from very low costs of e.g. 2 €ct/kWhe to more than 10 €ct/kWhe (ECN, 2007). Production cost estimates for the intended EPR (European Pressurised Reactor) power plants in France amount to €ct 4,6/kWhe. Differences between estimated production costs are mainly due to differences in the applied depreciation methodology, depreciation period and interest rates. For investment costs a fairly narrow range is mentioned. Costs for insurance may make up 30% of total operational costs. Dismantling costs are covered by a fund created from sales during the operational lifetime of the plant.

 

Estimated operational costs range from €ct1,2/kWhe to €2,0/kWhe, including dismantling and waste disposal. Costs for insurance may make up 30% of total operational costs. Cost estimates for final disposal of spent fuel in Finland (5,600 tonnes HM) are estimated in table above.

 

Nuclear power being a base load power production technology competes primarily with coal and large scale hydropower. Compared to coal a new NPP requires approximately twice the investment for the same capacity, excluding construction interests. Operational costs for a new coal power plant amount to approximately €ct 2/kWhe, including fuel costs (€ 2/GJ) (CE, 2006). In Europe, the nuclear industry still benefits from state subsidies but accurate, transparent information on the level of these subsidies is not available. A recent study conducted by DG Environment on “Environmental harmful subsidies” (EC, 2009) shows for instance that in Germany, the key subsidy specific to the decommissioning of nuclear-power facilities is a reduction in tax liabilities stemming from collection of decommissioning funds. Also the nuclear fuel is not taxed. The total size of this tax benefit is estimated at 5.6 billion EUR per year or 175 million EUR per nuclear power plant.

Data sources

More information about this indicator

See this indicator specification for more details.

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Anca-Diana Barbu

Ownership

EEA Management Plan

2009 2.9.1 (note: EEA internal system)

Dates

Document Actions
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100