Generating the Option of a Two-Stage Nuclear Renaissance

Science  13 Aug 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5993, pp. 799-803
DOI: 10.1126/science.1188928

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Concerns about climate change, security of supply, and depleting fossil fuel reserves have spurred a revival of interest in nuclear power generation in Europe and North America, while other regions continue or initiate an expansion. We suggest that the first stage of this process will include replacing or extending the life of existing nuclear power plants, with continued incremental improvements in efficiency and reliability. After 2030, a large-scale second period of construction would allow nuclear energy to contribute substantially to the decarbonization of electricity generation. For nuclear energy to be sustainable, new large-scale fuel cycles will be required that may include fuel reprocessing. Here, we explore the opportunities and constraints in both time periods and suggests ways in which measures taken today might, at modest cost, provide more options in the decades to come. Careful long-term planning, along with parallel efforts aimed at containing waste products and avoiding diversion of material into weapons production, can ensure that nuclear power generation remains a carbon-neutral option.

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