Closed nuclear fuel cycle is future of nuclear energy industry: Alexey Likhachev


Dubbing closed nuclear fuel cycle as the future of the nuclear power industry, Russia sought international collaboration on the same. The country’s interest in the closed fuel cycle was made explicit by the Director General of Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation Alexey Likhachev at the International Ministerial Conference on ‘Nuclear Power in the 21st century organized under the aegis of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Forced by the international sanctions regime following the Pokhran I atomic bomb test, India has also been pursuing the closed nuclear fuel cycle since the inception of its nuclear power programme.

“We are convinced that the future of the global nuclear power industry is going hand in hand with closed nuclear fuel cycle, with the core represented by fast fission reactor technologies,” Likhachev said. The contention made by him in support of his argument has been that the closed NFC will make “the peaceful atom” more environment friendly.

A closed NFC means that a country has mastered the technology of reprocessing and remaking the spent fuel from its nuclear power reactors. India has three-stage nuclear electricity programme that makes the nuclear fuel cycle closed. They are namely: pressurised heavy-water reactors (PHWRs) using natural uranium as fuel; fast breeder reactors (FBRs) using plutonium and depleted uranium from the PHWRs; and reactors using the abundant thorium found in India.

Closed nuclear fuel cycle enhances the energy potential of uranium multifold (perhaps 60 times). As part of its international civil cooperation agreements India has the right to reprocess the spent fuel from imported uranium and safeguarded NPPs, in safeguarded reprocessing plants. Besides India, countries such as France, and Russia have also adopted closed fuel cycle. Recently, China has also expressed interest in the technology.

“… this is not a technology of the distant future: taking into account the existing scientific and technological level of development, there are good reasons to think that complex product in this field will be offered to the market within the next 10-12 years. In nuclear power industry it means that these are the technologies of tomorrow,” declared the Rosatom Chief.

Alexey Likhachev also sought the industry players to work towards creating industrial infrastructure to slow down the increasing spent nuclear fuel while reprocessing fuel components back in the nuclear fuel cycle. “Today Rosatom is focusing on the development of such technologies – we are now creating industrial facilities to recycle spent fuel in Russia, and we are also working on new uranium-plutonium MOX fuel to help return spent fuel back to the nuclear fuel cycle. All of these activities will boost the nuclear power industry and promote its future development for decades. In view of the above, we urge all interested parties to get involved in cooperation in developing fast reactors and closed nuclear fuel cycle,” Likhachev added.

The multi-days IAEA conference is being attended by 700 delegates from 67 countries and serves as a forum for high-level dialogue on the role of nuclear power in meeting future energy demand, contributing to sustainable development and mitigating climate change. As per statistics nuclear sources provide 11 percent of the world’s electricity, which amounts to one-third of all electricity generated from low-carbon sources. Thirty countries currently operate nuclear power plants and around 30 others are considering or preparing to introduce nuclear power. Fifty-seven power reactors are under construction around the world, with the UAE in the process of building its first nuclear power plant.

International cooperation in giving impetus to the nuclear energy was also emphasized by the head of Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. “International co-operation can no doubt ease the path forward toward a clean, affordable and secured energy by addressing collectively the major technical, economic and political challenges with a focus on both today and the future,” NEA Director-General William Magwood, IV said.

The Rosatom Chief also flagged various challenges that the civil nuclear power industry is facing – to meet strenuous safety requirements and also counter the public misconceptions regarding nuclear power. “The first issue is safety: here we support IAEA’s efforts to consistently strengthen safety requirements. The global nuclear industry is now one of the most responsible and compliant with the safety and sustainable growth requirements among all other sectors of industry. Overall, the safety of technology and solutions is not just a requirement for us; it is a precondition to implement any nuclear project.”

According to Mr. Likhachev, the second area of international cooperation should be coordination of efforts on creating a positive reputation of the nuclear power industry. “We should trigger our cooperation not simply to ensure acceptability of nuclear power by society, but also to provide conditions for its demand by the public.”

The IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said that it was imperative for both the developed and developing countries “to secure sufficient energy to drive economic growth and counter climate change.” “However, more use of nuclear power will be needed to provide the steady supply of baseload electricity to power modern economies if countries are to meet the goals for greenhouse gas emissions which they set for themselves in the Paris Agreement,” he added.