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How long will our Nuclear Fuel resources Last?

  1. Feb 17, 2007 #1
    The other day I took note of the fact that the U.S. does not recycle its spent nuclear fuel. This struck me as very wasteful. Could it be recycled at some later date? Will we run out of Uranium in 50 years, or can we simply dig deeper into the earth to get more? There must be a large amount of Uranium in core, right?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 17, 2007 #2
    Nope like Oil it's a finite resource, and the US being wasteful is the result of a criminally irresponsible government that holds up the almighty dollar as if it was some sort of holy talisman, and does not really give much of a toss about forward planning if it's going to cost money.

    In essence fifty years maybe right maybe a hundred but sooner or later Uranium is going to run out too.

    In the UK we recycle or reprocess the fuel which although it still leaves waste means that we get more out of our Uranium.


    Last edited: Feb 17, 2007
  4. Feb 17, 2007 #3


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    WRONG!!!! WRONG!!! WRONG!!!

    The reason the USA doesn't reprocess doesn't have anything to do with the "almighty dollar".

    The USA doesn't reprocess because the anti-nukes got Congress to OUTLAW
    reprocessing in the USA back in the '70s. Irrespective of what the economics are;
    reprocessing / recycling of nuclear fuel in the USA is ILLEGAL.

    There has been motion to REVERSE this ill-conceived policy; but the anti-nukes are
    are up in arms about it again. Consider the following from the group that I call the
    "Union of Concerned Pseudo-Scientists":


    as well as Public Citizen:


    the SAME groups that were involved in getting reprocessing OUTLAWED in the USA back in
    the 1970s.

    The anti-nukes were able to convince Congress through their lies and "scare tactics" that reprocessing
    nuclear fuel would increase the amount of nuclear waste, or would lead to proliferation of nuclear weapons
    or ... whatever. Actually, their tactics are quite clear; they are opposed to the use of nuclear power, and
    if the reprocessing of nuclear fuel is outlawed, and the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste disposal project
    is held up in the Courts; then at some point, the nuclear fuel cycle will become "constipated".

    If the nuclear utilities can't recycle the waste, and they can't put it in an underground repository for
    disposal, and they can't build more spent fuel holding pools, or dry-cask storage; all of which are
    opposed by the anti-nukes; then sooner or later they will have no place to put spent nuclear fuel
    at all; and they won't be able to refuel the reactors. This will accomplish what the anti-nukes want -
    total shutdown of nuclear power plants.

    Hopefully, more intelligent minds will prevail this time.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2007
  5. Feb 18, 2007 #4
    I still think the assertion is correct, even though for once it's not about $ but stupid legislation. The US places economy above all else(at least the staunch Republicans do these days, anything else is a means to an end)
  6. Feb 18, 2007 #5


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    Schrodingers Dog,


    The legislation that PROHIBITS reprocessing and recycling of spent nuclear fuel
    in the USA is almost 30 years old.

    The Republicans were NOT in power when this legislation was passed.

    The law that prohibits reprocessing and recycling of spent nuclear fuel in the USA was
    passed by a Congress controlled by the Democrats, and with a Democratic President
    in the White House; namely President Jimmy Carter.

    NO WAY can the prohibition on reprocessing / recycling of spent nuclear fuel in the
    USA be laid at the feet of the Republicans!!

    The legislation was passed by Democrats at the behest of the anti-nukes; and their
    hews and cries that nuclear power was horrible and that it was causing cancer and was
    going to kill us all.

    President Carter wanted the United Kingdom and France to stop reprocessing, since
    he felt that reprocessing of nuclear fuel would encourage nuclear proliferation. So
    President Carter decided that the USA should "lead by example"; and that if the
    USA decided to forego reprocessing, that the United Kingdom and France would
    naturally follow the lead of the USA. The United Kingdom and France aren't
    lemmings that do whatever the USA does; and they pursued policies that are in
    their own interest.

    That legislation has stood for nearly 30 years. Few politicians have had the courage to
    revisit it. At one point, President Ronald Reagan suggested a change, and that went
    nowhere. Politicians of neither Party have seen fit to revisit this issue and change it.

    The current President Bush has suggested that this be changed, and the Dept of Energy
    is starting to look at the issue. You can see the response from the anti-nukes as shown
    in the links to "Union of Concerned Pseudo-Scientists" and Public Citizen that I cited in
    my previous post.

    They are girding for a new battle with the current Administration over plans to revisit
    reprocessing and recycling technology as part of the GNEP - the Global Nuclear Energy

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2007
  7. Feb 18, 2007 #6
    The uranium resources are for all practical purposes unlimited.
    When the cheap and easily recoverable uranium starts to run out we can begin to extract it from the ocean and our civilisation will be long gone before we can exhaust that supply.

    When people say we have uranium for 70 more years they mean uranium that is economic to recover with todays prices.

    This is a nice article

    When we begin to build fast reactors we will be able to fuel them with todays waste alone for several hundrad years.
  8. Feb 18, 2007 #7


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    Correct - with fast reactors all the "depleted uranium" that now is essentially a unusable
    byproduct as far as nuclear power is concerned; then becomes a resource.

    With fast reactors; instead of using the 0.7% of natural uranium that is the fissile isotope
    U-235; we can use ALL the uranium. The U-235 is already fissile, and fast reactors can
    turn the remaining U-238 into Pu-239 which is fissile and can be used as reactor fuel.

    With fast reactors; you can multiply your nuclear power reserves by a factor in excess
    of 140!!!

    Yes - we would have enough nuclear fuel to last for hundreds of years; long enough
    to achieve controlled thermonuclear fusion. With 1% of the entire volume of ocean;
    nuclear fusion should last for the nearly indefinite future.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
  9. Feb 18, 2007 #8
    I believe that if nuclear power is taken to be the ONLY source of power, natural uranium will run out in 50 years.

    Reprocessing usually gets a lot of what the input amount of fuel was. 96% of spent uranium is still fissile, and can be used again; which saves 30% of raw uranium from being used at that point in time. Although it does separate plutonium, it does prevent it from being heavily energized and unstable to where it can be used in a nuclear weapon directly.

    Also, it makes sense that congress would ban it because it is costly. I would agree that they are 'stupid' from taking advice from anti-nuke activists.
  10. Feb 19, 2007 #9


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    I'm afraid you are INCORRECT in virtually EVERYTHING you said above.

    For example, spent fuel is NOT 96% fissile. Nuclear reactor fuel starts out fresh as
    about 4% U-235 and 96% U-238; which is probably where you got the 96% number.

    After 3 years in the reactor, virtually ALL the fissile U-235 has been burned up. However,
    some of the "fertile" U-238 has been transmuted into Pu-239 which is fissile. Some of
    that Pu-239 is fissioned in the reactor. In fact, in the 3 years that a fuel assembly
    spends in a reactor, about 40% of the energy you get from that assembly comes from
    fissioning Pu-239 that was created in situ. At the end of 3 years, there is still some
    Pu-239 left in the fuel; about 2% or so.

    So spent fuel consists of about 2% fissile Pu-239, about 4% fission products, and
    about 94% U-238. So only about 2% of the spent fuel is fissile; NOT 96%.

    NO - it DOESN'T make sense for Congress to ban reprocessing because it is costly.
    Reprocessing IS economical; and that is what the British, the French, and the
    Japanese do with their fuel cycle. Reprocessing IS economical.

    Reprocessing lets you recover the fissile Plutonium so that it can be recycled back to
    the reactor - so you get more energy out of a given amount of Uranium. Additionally,
    because the Plutonium is recycled back to the reactor; you don't have Plutonium in the
    waste stream. One of the reasons for the high cost of the USA's spent fuel disposal
    repository at Yucca Mountain is because it is being built to survive thousands of years;
    which is the lifetime of the Plutonium that will be entombed there.

    If you get the Plutonium out of the waste stream, and recycle it back to the reactor to
    be burned; then the repository doesn't have to survive for thousands of years. That's
    because the longest lived fission product of any consequence is Cesium-137 which has
    a half-life of 30 years compared to the 24,000 year half life of Plutonium-239.

    In a time span much, much less than that required to store Plutonium, ALL the
    radioisotopes in the nuclear waste will have decayed to a level of radioactivity LESS
    than the Uranium that was mined from the ground. If you aren't concerned about the
    Uranium in the ground naturally, and its level of radioactivity; then you shouldn't be
    concerned with fission products that are several hundered years old either.

    Reprocessing is an EXCELLENT, and COST EFFECTIVE technology; and the USA
    would use it just like the other countries, Britain, France, Japan,.... but Congress made
    reprocessing ILLEGAL in the USA.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
  11. Feb 20, 2007 #10
    I think your missing the point I'm taking a pot shot at the Republicans being money obsessed crooks atm, don't take that away from me :wink::smile:.

    As I inferred in the original post I made. I'm sure the only consideration of not changing this law isn't whether anti nuke protesters or whoever would lobby against it, it's probably more to do with cost why this is still in existence.
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2007
  12. Feb 20, 2007 #11


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    Schroedingers Dog,

    Why not? When you are WRONG - then you are WRONG!!!

    I don't care what your intent or motives are!! The information you gave is WRONG!!!

    Again WRONG, WRONG, WRONG - for the hundredth time WRONG!!!!

    The Congress wasn't concerned about economics. I've read the Congression Register
    on the debate. The US Congress passed this law PURELY at the behest of the
    anti-nukes. There was no discussion of econmics.

    If reprocessing / recycling were not economical; why does Great Britain, France, and
    Japan continue to do it?

    The point is, reprocessing DOES make economic sense; as well as simplifiying the
    waste disposal problem.

    Don't tell people there is an economic reason when there isn't!!!

    I don't care whether you want to bash Republicans or not.

    This forum is about science and physics.

    If you want to bash people for their politics - find a political forum.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
  13. Feb 20, 2007 #12

    It is controversial whether reprocessing is cheaper, see my first post. But I think I've kind of got the message, don't say anything if someone is going to take offence. My apologies. I'll withdraw and hope that somehow my serious misadventure isn't taken too much to heart? I'm a cynic at heart and I think personally that unless given reason to be otherwise I'll be cynical. In this case I was wrong, sorry if that annoys you, it wasn't a deliberate attempt to mislead, but past history does seem to indicate a healthy level of cynicism in everything that happens or continues to happen at least with the current government. :eek: OK my attempt at humour was misplaced, sorry.

    I bash everyone for their politics, it's what my media was founded on, it's what they're there for, if they don't want to be criticised then don't go into politics, in this case it was wrong, sorry Mr Bush.

    Please understand this was on the GD section at first, had it of started off here, things may of been different, in fact I almost certainly never would of posted. And even if I did I certainly wouldn't have posted what I did.

    Humble apologies. :frown:
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2007
  14. Feb 20, 2007 #13


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    It's only controversial for those that don't want anybody to do it. When a nations, like
    the United Kingdom, France, and Japan have the opportunity to reprocess / recycle
    without a governmental prohibition - they do it!!!

    It's not a question of offending - it's a question about presenting ACCURATE information.
    I believe people come here to get ACCURATE technical information; NOT information
    that has been filtered by one's political agenda.

    Again I say - that may be fine for a political forum. But that's NOT what this forum is
    about. This is a forum about science and physics. It's a place where people can get
    good technical answers to their questions. Not answers that have been filtered through
    someone's politics.

    That's one of the BIG problem with Nuclear Engineering especially in the USA. We are
    awash in misinformation due to the antics of the anti-nukes. They don't know the
    science; and spread misinformation that is motivated by their politics. Many are against
    big business, many think oppose nuclear power is a way to oppose nuclear weapons...
    whatever. They spread misinformation for their own political purposes.

    I would suggest that when responding to a scientific question on a scientific forum, that
    you answer the technical question with a technical response. Check your sources. You
    aren't going to get a good technical answer from Greenpeace, Helen Caldicott, or the
    Union of Concerned Scientists, for example; when it comes to nuclear power.

    Activist and activist agencies aren't playing by the rules of scientific discourse. They
    are free to express their free speech rights. However, when they or anybody else posts
    scientifically incorrect information because they are being political and not scientific;
    then they better be prepared to get called on it; and to defend their position if they can.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
  15. Feb 20, 2007 #14
    Yes Ok but bear in mind my initial response was on GD, and intended to be a little light hearted, I can only apologise so many times. I'm sorry OK.

    Moved: How long will our Nuclear Fuel resources Last?

    EDIT: and I don't think wiki is that biased in this instance, I don't see any reason to believe it's the cheaper option, and if I wasn't so p'd off with being taken to task about a post I made on GD, I might stick around to find out why.
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2007
  16. Feb 20, 2007 #15

    Andrew Mason

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    In a Candu reactor about 60-70% of the U235 undergoes fission or about .5% of the total fuel put into the reactor. Approximately 30% of the energy comes from fission of Pu (created from neutron bombardment of U238 in the reactor), so the total fuel consumed is about .7% of the total raw U. For LWR, the actual percentage of the input enriched fuel that is consumed is higher than in a Candu (70-80%), but the percentage used of total raw U before enrichment is lower. Once you get down to .2% fissile material, thermal reactors can't make much use of it no matter how much reprocessing is done.

    Morbius is the expert here, but my understanding is that the only way to significantly increase overall use of fuel is to use fast reactor technology. With fast reactors, the U238 can be entirely used over the fuel life cycle, provided reprocessing can be done periodically to remove fission products. Using fast reactor technology you can use 99% of the fuel leaving only the relatively short lived fission products as waste.

    In my view, the real challenge for nuclear energy is to make more efficient used of our limited supply of uranium rich deposits (I don't think it is possible to extract U from granite or coal in any cost effective or environmentally responsible way), to minimize long lived radioactive wastes, while making the technology exceedingly difficult to be used for non-peaceful purposes. The current brand of uranium hogs that are being used cannot provide the foundation for a sustainable or secure nuclear energy future.

  17. Feb 20, 2007 #16

    Andrew Mason

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    Frankly, I thought it was a good post. What Morbius may lack in tact he makes up for in knowledge and experience. Don't take it too hard because you can learn a lot from posting incorrect stuff and getting him to respond. I certainly have, and I am much indebted to him for the time and interest he gives to PF and to this board in particular.

  18. Feb 21, 2007 #17


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    Guilty as charged!! Yes - at times I do lack tact - especially when frustrated by
    other pressures.

    Additionally, I can't tell when I'm dealing with someone who is just pushing their agenda;
    irrewpective of the facts.

    For example, in another forum that I folow - a political forum - we were discussing the
    recent flap about speaker Pelosi wanting the equivalent of a Boeing 757 for her personal
    aircraft because it could get to California non-stop.

    One of the other posters in that forum didn't even want to accept that a headwind would
    reduce the ground speed, and hence the range of the aircraft. She just fought tenaciously
    for Pelosi's need for a Boeing 757. [ The point I was making about headwinds actually
    auggered for a larger plane - but she was just so adamantly in support of Pelosi and her
    contention; and against what I was saying; the fact that the particular point about the
    headwinds that I was making, actually helped her case.]

    Over the years, I've run into a lot people that will take trivial non-issues and blow them up
    into insurmountable terrors, just to feed their own agendas. My current belief is that the
    remedy for that is to blast them good and hard with the facts. We'll see if it works.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
  19. Feb 21, 2007 #18


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    Correct. With fast reactors; you can make a "breeder". Since a breeder produces more
    fuel than it consumes; you can "boot-strap" your way up into using ALL the uranium.

    Suppose you had a breeding ratio of 1. [ You can actually do better ]. Then you start with
    the 0.7% of natural uranium that is U-235; and you can use that to turn 0.7% of the U-238
    into fissile Pu-239 - so you can now use 1.4% of the fuel. But when you burn that 0.7%
    Pu-239; you can create another 0.7% Pu-239; so you have used 2.1% total - and so on
    until you have used 100% of the natural uranium as fuel.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
  20. May 30, 2011 #19
    I know this thread has long since closed, and in fact I registered to voice my sentiment...

    Is fission viable? Do reactor walls in the most sophisticated projected fission reactors not need replacing every few years at vast, non-nuclear, cost? Where do we store waste? These questions, none of them, are answered.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 30, 2011
  21. Jun 27, 2011 #20
    I suspect you might be a little confused between fusion vs. fission reactors. Do you mean a fusion reactor, like an ITER-style Tokamak?
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