Keywords: lifecycle assessment, nuclear energy lifecycle, ecological footprint, sustainable development, risk assessment, energy planning, critical infrastructures, health, environmental impact, vulnerability assessment, lifecycle assessment, LCA
Improving the ecological footprint of nuclear energy: a risk-based lifecycle assessment approach for critical infrastructure systems
The nuclear energy lifecycle is fraught with hazards and critical infrastructure risks, including plant operation vulnerabilities and the storage of nuclear waste. Many authors have noted that traditional ecological footprint calculations fail to include important health and environmental impacts related to the production of electricity with nuclear energy systems. In response to these concerns, this paper uses a lifecycle assessment approach to quantify the risks and vulnerabilities of critical infrastructure over the entire nuclear energy lifecycle, including uranium mining, transportation, operation and disposal. Specifically, a lifecycle assessment of nuclear energy production is important because it captures the release of radionuclides and other toxic materials into the environment. In addition, the fraction of the biosphere necessary to support the production of electricity via nuclear technologies is estimated. It is concluded that, when critical infrastructure risks are taken into consideration, the actual nuclear footprint may be significantly higher than previous footprint calculations.