Mining, Waste, and the so-called nuclear fuel-cycle

Last Tuesday Nuclearwaters-colleague Andrei Stsiapanau and me have interviewed Dima Litvinov on his experiences in the capacity of Greenpeace representative in Russia. Among other issues, Russian nuclear waste handling during the chaos of the 1990s became our main topic.

While it was in itself an exciting event, two points kept me thinking. First the characteristics of the so-called nuclear fuel cycle and secondly the role of water in it. As Per Högselius has argued, in reality there is no such thing as a fuel cycle – proclamations of the nuclear industry notwithstanding. Instead, we actually have a linear concept. With the mining of uranium it has a clear beginning and with the storage of nuclear waste it has its ending. The actual amount of recycled fuel elements can prolong its lifetime, but they will ultimately end as waste. Dima shared with us his experiences of both the mining and the storage aspect. It became apparent that water stayed a very crucial component in both. Unfortunately, water is often the carrier of radionuclide-emissions in both instances. Whether it is used as cleaning agent in the mining process, or as medium for storage in the case of waste-dumping into the sea.

This proves that water stays crucial in the system of a nuclear power plant – also apart from cooling purposes. If we want to improve nuclear safety, water as this crucial aspect needs to be accounted for in our studies.

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