European Commission, Joint Research Centre

Management of spent nuclear fuel and its waste


Courtesy of European Commission, Joint Research Centre

The spent nuclear fuel from the operation of nuclear power plants needs to be managed in a safe, responsible and effective way. Several possibilities exist to deal with the spent fuel. Within the so-called “open fuel cycle”, it is disposed of without further use. When “closing the fuel cycle”, the energetic component in the spent fuel, plutonium and uranium, is extracted (i.e. ‘reprocessed’) for reuse. Consequently, in fully closed cycles, up to 50 to 100 times more energy can potentially be generated from the uranium mined originally. In addition, comprehensive recycling and treatment of the used fuel components by anticipated advanced technologies would leave waste material that decays to low levels of radioactivity in less than 1 000 years. However, all of these steps involve additional dedicated facilities, and require substantial further research and development before they are commercially available.

The European Council Directive 2011/70/EURATOM on the “responsible and safe management of spent fuel and radioactive waste” requires EU Member States to establish a dedicated policy, including the implementation of national programmes for the management of spent fuel and radioactive waste. This report by the Joint Research Centre and European Academies’ Science Advisory Council aims to inform policy makers on important issues to be taken into consideration for national programmes. It describes the options for spent fuel management, their present state of development and their consequences.

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